Jenkins v. Leftwich Elec. Co.

Decision Date03 May 1961
Docket NumberNo. 317,317
Citation254 N.C. 553,119 S.E.2d 767
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Townsend & Todd by James R. Todd, Jr., Lenoir, for plaintiff, appellee.

L. H. Wall and Hal B. Adams, Lenoir, for defendant, appellant.

PARKER, Justice.

Plaintiff's evidence tends to show the following facts:

In the autumn of 1959 plaintiff was the owner of a new home, which he had recently constructed. It had a fair market value of $4,500. He had in it household and kitchen furniture and other articles of personal property with a fair market value of $5,125. He had fire insurance on his home in the amount of $3,000, and no insurance on his personal property therein. In November 1959 he had moved in this home.

Defendant Electric Company contracted with plaintiff to install the electric wiring, switch boxes, junction boxes and receptacles in his home for a price of $130. Defendant sent Sanford Bowers, who had been an electrician for a number of years, and a helper Clyde Craig, known as Pete, to do the work. Pete Craig wired the refrigerator receptacle in the kitchen, and all the wiring and installing in the kitchen. Pete Craig asked Bowers did the black wire go with the black, and the red with the red. Bowers replied they did. Pete put on the meter box upside down, and Bowers called his attention to it, and changed it. On 9 November 1959 Bowers told plaintiff he was through with the work, he would have the work inspected, and the Duke Power Company would turn on the electricity.

On 10 November 1959 plaintiff was in his home, and the Duke Power Company turned on the electricity between 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock p. m. Within 30 or 40 minutes thereafter he turned on the lights in his living room. He had an upright lamp there with two 100-watt bulbs in it, and the lights showed only a dark red glow. He went in the kitchen, and switched on the overhead light fixture which had two 100-watt bulbs in it. These bulbs came on tremendously bright, and after three or four minutes exploded, and the lights went out. When these bulbs exploded, the refrigerator stopped. The refrigerator was in the kitchen, and back of it was a receptable in which the refrigerator connection was inserted. He cooked his supper on the electric range, and left his home about 6:45 o'clock p. m.

D. W. Gragg, who lived about 500 yards from plaintiff's home, came out of his house, and saw the windows in plaintiff's house, and they looked a light blue color. He saw flames break through 'on the eve of the house on the upper side, right where the kitchen was. ' He went to his telephone to call Archie Davis' service station because plaintiff went there occasionally in the evenings, but the telephone was busy. He got in his truck to go to Archie Davis' service station, and met plaintiff on the way. Davis told him plaintiff had received the news, and he went to the fire. He saw plaintiff there upon arrival.

About one hour after plaintiff left his home, he received the news that his home was on fire by telephone at Archie Davis' service station. He left for his home, and when he reached there flames were all over the interior. 'I could tell that the kitchen had fallen in, and it appeared that the fire originated in that area. I am certain that I switched the electric range off at the time I left home, because I checked the range twice. ' His home and its contents were destroyed by the fire.

The next morning Jack Huffman, general manager for City Electric Company of Hickory, one of the largest contractors there, at plaintiff's request went with him to the scene of the fire. Huffman is familiar with all types of wiring, switches, junction boxes, etc. He supervises the installation for his company. He is familiar with the National Electrical Code. The court, without objection by defendant, held that he was an expert witness as an electrician. When Huffman with plaintiff reached the scene, he saw nothing much, only ashes; a few boards may have been standing; it was still smoking. While digging around through the ashes with his hands he found a switch box, which plaintiff said was where it was behind his refrigerator. In the electric business a switch box is used for all switches, outlets, or receptacles. This switch box fitted in the classification of switch boxes 2 inches by 1 3/4 inches by 2 3/4 inches in Table 370-6 (a-1) of the National Electrical Code. This table specifies how many wires should be put in a box depending on its size, and this is set out for the protection of property owners. This switch box had 8 wires in it, twice as many as the maximum permitted by the National Electrical Code. (It would seem from the record that the wires were number 12-2). This was a violation of the National Electrical Code. The wires in the switch box were clamped awfully tight. The metal of the clamp could cut into the copper of the wires, and cause a short circuit, which would blow a fuse. Huffman testified, 'even if there had been the number of wires in the box allowed in the Code, in the manner they were clamped, it was done in a manner which was not safe. They were too tight. ' The negative and hot wires were not placed in the switch box in the ordinary and customary way of wiring. In Huffman's opinion, it was possible that the wiring in the installation as he found it could have caused 220 volts to go into the appliance. It was also his opinion that the installation as he found it could have caused a leaking circuit, not enough to show on a bell ringing circuit, or a test set, and not enough to blow a fuse. When the refrigerator was plugged in it, it could have started the heating, but he would not say it did. Huffman testified without objection: 'The place where I found this receptacle, which was behind the refrigerator, in the kitchen, the floor had been burned through at those locations, in front and behind the refrigerator and in looking through the remains, there is where I found that receptable.'

On recross-examination Mr. L. H. Wall, one of defendant's counsel, asked Huffman if he had signed a written statement. Huffman replied Yes. Whereupon Mr. Wall read the statement, and asked that it be marked for identification as defendant's Exhibit A, which statement is as follows:

'I, Jack Norman Huffman, age 31, reside at Conover, N. C. I am manager of the City Electric Company in Hickory, N. C.

'On 11-11-59 I was called by R. D. Jenkins to Collettsville Road, Lenoir, N. C. He told me his new home had burned down and he wanted me to come over and see if I could find any fault in the wiring that was left after the fire. I went over that day, and the only thing I could find in the ruins that would indicate a violation of the National Electric Code was a receptacle that had nine wires connected to it, and this was too much wiring for the size of the receptacle and is against regulations of the National Electric Code. Also the clamps that hold the wires together in the rear of the box were so tight that possibly the insulation on the wiring could have been broken and this would have caused heat, but not enough to blow a fuse. This is not actually faulty wiring, that is, having nine wires connected to one receptacle, but it is a violation of the National Code. Other than this I could find nothing that would indicate faulty wiring, or violation of the National Electric Code.'

On cross-examination Jack Huffman testified: 'I found two ground wires in the receptacle and three neutral wires. Neither the neutral or ground wires are conductors.'

Immediately thereafter he testified on redirect-examination: 'There are a total of 8 wires through the box. And there was a total of 8 wires there at the time I found it. I told Mr. Jenkins it was a violation of the Code.'

When plaintiff rested his case, defendant introduced evidence as follows:

Sanford Bowers testified in substance: He is an employee of defendant. He and a helper, Clyde Craig, did for defendant the wiring of plaintiff's home. He is, to a certain extent, familiar with the National Electrical Code, and he installed the wires in accordance with that Code, as he understood it. On cross-examination he was shown the switch box which Jack Huffman found in the ashes of plaintiff's home, and was asked whether it was in compliance with the National Electrical Code. He replied, 'No, sir; I don't think it is.'

T. W. Younts is the county and city wiring inspector. He is familiar with the National Electrical Code. He inspected the wiring in plaintiff's home on 9 November 1959, and made out a certificate. He went to the scene after the fire. Jack Huffman and plaintiff were there. He went over with Huffman the portions of the receptacles that had been found there and introduced in evidence, to see how they had been wired. He found one violation of the National Electrical Code. 'There was one too many wires in the box. ' He could not tell anything about the clamp in the box having been too tight: the insulation was gone, and there was no way for him to tell. He testified on cross-examination: 'There is a violation of the Code because there were 2 cables under one clamp. * * There were 6 wires in the box. The Code limitation is 4 No. 12 wire. There are not 4 wires too many. ' He testified further on cross-examination in substance as follows: Looking at the clamp and the manner it is placed over the wires, it is possible it could have cut through a portion of the insulation on one or more of the wires. If the insulation were cut through, actually, that would be a short circuit. It is possible a partial short circuit will not necessarily blow a fuse. It is possible for such a condition to generate heat as an act of ground leakage. When he made his inspection he did not inspect this particular installation and check it. He testified on redirectexamination: 'If there is a short circuit your fuse is going to kick out, and that circuit is dead.'

Ned Leftwich, secretary and treasurer...

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