Electrical Injuries on Outdoor Premises

kids in pool

When we consider the possibility of injury from electrical devices in our homes and workplaces, we typically think of the electrical wiring, systems, and appliances inside -- the major home appliances, hand tools, electronics, and other electrically-powered devices with which we surround ourselves day and night. There are also sources of electricity outside our homes, however, including such things as pools and spas, outdoor lighting, electric fences in areas with animals, and ordinary electric receptacles and extension cords. Therefore, the presence of these devices raises the possibility of electrical injury on outdoor premises. An experienced personal injury attorney can help people who have sustained injuries from outdoor electrical devices navigate the complexities of premises liability law and other applicable theories of liability to secure appropriate compensation for their injuries. 

What are the Dangers of Electrical Injuries on Outdoor Premises? 

Most of the sources of electricity in and around American homes -- including typical 110-120v house current -- are considered to be "low voltage," from which the danger of direct electrocution is relatively low. The main exception is when environmental conditions make the human body much more conductive to electricity, increasing the electrical flow (and danger of electrocution). And the primary environmental condition that poses such a danger is water.  All modern building codes in the United States require ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices in the "wet" rooms -- bathrooms and kitchens -- in new construction. In addition to outdoor features of our homes that are always wet, such as pools and spas, outdoor spaces can also frequently and unpredictably be wet from weather events, outdoor washing, and other water sources. 

Pools and Spas

Pools and spas are far safer now than in the past, primarily because of the same GFCI and similar safety devices that have considerably reduced the danger of electrocution indoors. These devices are commonly required in all electrically-powered pumping and lighting systems in pools and spas. Additionally, modern pool lighting systems will typically run current through a transformer to step it down to a very low voltage for powering the lights.  Still, even with these protections, the Consumer Products Safety Commission counted 33 electrocutions in pools and spas from 2002 to 2017.  The primary dangers with pools and spas are from older installations that do not have these protective devices and from other electrically-powered devices unexpectedly falling into the water. 

Outdoor Lighting Systems 

Most modern landscape lighting systems around our homes are low voltage (12V) systems. The low voltage is very safe for adults, children, and animals, and homeowners and renters can easily install and maintain the systems themselves.  However, some home construction and commercial construction will have 120V systems for outdoor lighting -- these systems should be installed by professional electricians and adequately sealed against weather and against human contact. They present similar dangers of shock or electrocution to any other higher current electricity sources in and around our homes. Older street lighting installations may run on even higher currents but are only a rare source of electrocution incidents. 

Electric Fencing 

Electric fencing is not commonly found around most American homes. Still, it may frequently be encountered in more rural areas where homeowners have animals and livestock near their residences. Although the popular mental image of electric fences may present them as dangerous, they are actually relatively safe in electrocution hazards compared to other outdoor electrical devices. The current running through electric fencing can be of very high voltage -- this produces the painful "attention-getting" shock from contact -- but is of very low amperage compared to electric sources such as house current.  This is an example of the old saying about "amps killing rather than the volts" -- while not as simple as that, it's because the voltage increases the likelihood of overcoming resistance and allowing current to flow through the body, while the amperage measures the amount of electrical flow -- what actually causes injury -- once that resistance is overcome.  Although relatively safe, modern electric fencing can still pose a danger if the house current side of the installation (before the current is transformed into what runs through the fencing) is improperly installed. It can also pose some danger to smaller individuals, especially children, who may become entangled with the fencing or contact it during wet conditions. 

Outdoor Receptacles and Extension Cords 

Modern building codes in most states require GFCI devices for outdoor electrical receptacles on homes for just the same reasons as in "wet" bathroom and kitchen spaces indoors -- the likelihood of contacting electricity while in wet conditions. The relative safety or dangers of these devices is typically in direct proportion to whether safety protections like GFCIs and fully grounded receptacles, and grounded (3-prong) extension cords are being used. As with other outdoor electrical systems, the age of these devices is a primary indicator of whether or not these safety devices are present. 

How to Protect Against Injuries? 

The Consumer Products Safety Commission lists several simple, commonsense practices that can considerably enhance safety around pools and spas: 

  • Know your equipment, especially where pool and spa power switches and circuit breakers are located. 
  • Do not swim when there is a danger of lightning. 
  • Have older pool and spa installations inspected by a qualified electrician who can make appropriate electrical safety upgrades. 
  • Install GFCIs as required and test them at least monthly. 
  • Use devices (such as radios) powered by batteries instead of house current in and around pools, and keep all cord-connected devices and extension cords at least 10 feet away from the water. 
  • Never place electrical devices like strings of outdoor lights above a pool or spa. 

Safer use of other outdoor electrical systems like outdoor lighting, electric fencing, and outdoor receptacles involves the same commonsense steps of knowing how the systems were installed and how they work, making sure that older systems are inspected and up to code, and having professional electricians install new systems and upgrade old systems with devices like GFCIs. 

Legal Considerations for Outdoor Premises Electrical Injuries

The people who own and occupy residential and commercial properties have the primary responsibility for safety on their premises, both indoors and outdoors. When an outdoor electrical system causes a personal injury on such premises, the first liability consideration for a personal injury lawyer will be the possibility of strict liability and/or negligence on the part of the premises owner, renter, and/or operator.  However, a thorough investigation of just how the electrical injury occurred may also establish liability on the part of individuals and companies that manufactured, retailed, installed, and/or maintained an electrical system where a defect in that system was a cause of the injury. These considerations will typically include: 

  • Was the electrical system properly designed and manufactured? 
  • Did the electrical system meet all required specifications when it was installed? 
  • Were necessary and proper instructions provided for safe use of the electrical system, if such were required? 
  • Was the electrical system subsequently damaged or improperly maintained by someone other than the premises owner/renter? 

Personal injury claims involving electrical injuries are invariably more complex to understand in technical terms of how the injury was caused and who may have been legally liable for the damage. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help untangle these complex matters to secure proper compensation for an injury victim. 

View this video about the tragic consequences for one local child of an older pool lighting installation that lacked a GFCI:

Sacramento Electrical Injury Lawyer 

Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I am a Sacramento Electrical Injury Lawyer. We are almost always surrounded by electrical systems and devices in the modern world, even outdoors near our homes. Although modern safety devices have made these common outdoor appliances and systems far safer than they were in the past, there is still a danger of electrical injury if improperly used or maintained. If you or a member of your family has experienced an incident involving electrical injury while on the outdoor premises of a home or commercial building, please contact us for free and friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400, or reach out to us by using our online contact form. 

We are proud to be among the injury attorneys of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. 

You can see some of our prior case results on our past verdicts and settlements page, and check out our client reviews at Yelp, Google, and Avvo. 

Photo by tookapic from Pixabay 

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