Woody v. South Carolina Power Co.

Decision Date01 February 1943
Docket Number15496.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Appeal from Common Pleas Court, of Charleston County; Philip H Stoll, Judge.

Action by L. L. Woody against the South Carolina Power Company for injuries caused by electric shock. From a judgment on a directed verdict for defendant, plaintiff appeals.

Mitchell & Horlbeck and Stoney, Crosland & Pritchard, all of Charleston, for appellant.

Hagood Rivers & Young and William C. Ehrhardt, all of Charleston, for respondent.

E. H HENDERSON, Acting Associate Justice.

The respondent, South Carolina Power Company, maintained a line of poles and high power electric wires along the Charleston-Savannah highway near Red Top, in Charleston County. At this point the line crossed the highway on a diagonal span.

Early in the morning of August 3, 1939, a truck owned by John Brandon, who was hauling for McLeod Lumber Company, and in no way connected with the respondent, was driven in such a negligent and wrongful manner that it left the traveled portion of the highway, ran off the dirt shoulder, and jumped over a ditch which was about two and one-half feet deep. It hit one of the defendant's forty foot poles with such force as to crush it and to cause one of the wires to break loose from the insulator on the cross-arm and to sag across the highway.

The plaintiff, L. L. Woody, with his wife, two sons and a friend of Mrs. Woody left the City of Charleston at five o'clock on that morning to go on a fishing trip. They proceeded down the paved Charleston-Savannah highway at a moderate speed, and reached a point a few hundred yards beyond the intersection with the John's Island road, when they saw the truck in the ditch. This was only a few minutes after the wreck had occurred. As they drove on a little farther, in the hazy light just ahead of them they saw a wire hanging across the highway, three and one-half to four feet from the ground. The plaintiff's son, who was driving the automobile, attempted to avoid running into the wire, but it became hooked under the upper hinge of the left rear door of the automobile, and the car was brought to a stop. The plaintiff realized that it was a high power line, and discussed with his son the best course to take. The rubber tires of the automobile protected them at the time. He concluded that the wisest thing for him to do was to open the right-hand front door of the automobile and to jump clear of the car so as to avoid touching the automobile and the ground at the same time, and to get a board with which to disengage the wire. Just as he opened the door, his dog which had been lying on the floor of the automobile near the driver, leaped out of the car, and as its front feet touched the ground, a part of the dog came in contact with the plaintiff, who had one foot on the running board of the car, giving him a severe electric shock and causing serious physical injury. The dog was instantly killed. The plaintiff was pulled back into the automobile by his son and after regaining consciousness used a rifle to push the wire from under the hinge. This enabled his son to drive on and turn around, and the plaintiff was taken to a hospital.

The case was tried at Charleston before his Honor, Judge Philip H. Stoll, and a jury. At the conclusion of the testimony, the defendant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that there was no evidence of negligence on its part, and on the further ground that the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence was that the injury suffered by the plaintiff was not proximately caused by any negligence on its part, but was the result of the intervening act of the truck driver.

His Honor, the trial Judge, granted the motion and directed a verdict in favor of the defendant.

There are three questions raised by the exceptions: Was there any evidence of negligence? If so, was there evidence that the injury of the plaintiff was the proximate result of such negligence? Did his Honor err in his rulings as to the admissibility of certain testimony?

Taking up first the question of negligence, the contention of the plaintiff is that the defendant was guilty of negligence in violating a regulation of the Public Service Commission. Rule 69, Section 3, of the regulations of the Commission reads as follows: (3) "The crossing span shall be as short as practicable and in general, the length of the adjoining span on each side shall not be more than fifty (50) per cent. of the length of the crossing span."

This rule of the Commission was duly filed in the office of the Secretary of State on November 8, 1937, and was published in the Acts of 1938, page 3013, and may be found in the Code of 1942, in Volume 4, at page 737, just after section 8210.

The plaintiff says that the Power Company violated the rule in having the crossing span as long as 248.4 feet, instead of having it as short as practicable; and in having adjoining spans of about 300 feet, instead of one-half the length of the crossing span. He contends that the adjoining spans should not have exceeded 124.2 feet, which would bring the poles nearer to the crossing span, and, according to plaintiff's view, would have permitted a lesser degree of sag if one of the corner poles were knocked down. The plaintiff says that if this had been done, the wire would have not sagged low enough to have touched his automobile.

The Public Service Commission has been given authority to supervise and regulate the service of public utilities and to fix just and reasonable standards and regulations. Code of 1942, section 8204 and 8210.

Its reasonable rules and regulations when properly filed and published have the power and effect of law, and, of course, must be observed by power companies. Brownlee v. Charleston Motor Express Co., 189 S.C. 204, 200 S.E. 819; Act March 26, 1937, 40 St. at Large, page 174.

The violation of a rule or regulation prescribed by proper authority for the safety of the public and which has the power and effect of law is at least evidence of negligence. 45 C.J. 732.

The alleged violation of the rule is the only basis here for a charge of negligence, since no other act of negligence on the part of the defendant at common law or under a statute is both alleged in the complaint and disclosed by the evidence. The testimony of several witnesses that there is no safe or practicable way to insulate a wire carrying 13,000 volts of electricity, is uncontradicted. So the question is narrowed down to this: Was there evidence of a violation of the rule?

If the defendant violated the express terms of such a regulation, the question of negligence, if proximately causing injury, could not have been taken from the jury; and this is true whether a violation of a rule is negligence per se, as claimed by the plaintiff, or merely evidence of negligence. However, in this case, it is important to note the language of the rule and to observe that instead of designating a precise length for the crossing span it merely says that the crossing span "shall be as short as practicable," and further that instead of stating that the adjoining spans shall in every instance be half as long as the crossing span the rule says that "in general" this shall be so. It appears, then, that the rule is not intended to be inflexible.

In the case of Fort Sumter Hotel v. S9outh Carolina Tax Commission, S. C., 21 S.E.2d 393, 396, filed August 1, 1942, in discussing the meaning of the word "practicable" the court among other definitions gave this one: "And perhaps if the word 'possible' were qualified as 'reasonably possible' this would mean substantially the same as 'practicable."'

The word "practicable" is quite akin to the word "practical," which is defined in the case of Locklear v. Southeastern Stages, 193 S.C. 309, 8 S.E.2d 321, 324, as follows: "In our opinion, the word 'practical' is not to be given too literal a construction or interpretation. It does not necessarily mean that which is physically possible or mechanically practicable, but rather that which is possible of reasonable performance, including the element of reasonable safety under the existing circumstances."

Clearly, then, the word as used here does not mean the same thing as "possible," since, of course, the shortest possible line across a highway would be at right angles to it. In this regulation we think the meaning is that the span shall be as short as is reasonably possible, taking into consideration the mechanical factors and the necessity for reasonable safety to the public.

The phrase "in general" is not inflexible or absolute, but carries with it the idea that under certain conditions there may be a variation from the standard, without constituting a violation of the rule.

It is therefore proper to consider the conditions surrounding this particular locality, and to inquire whether there was any evidence that the crossing span was longer than was practicable, or whether in view of the conditions at this point a departure from the general requirements of the rule as to the spacing of the poles constituted a violation of its terms, and consequently evidence of negligence.

The power line was constructed along the side of the road on the edge of the right-of-way as permitted by sections 8531 and 8540 of the Code of 1942, and carried 13,000 volts of electricity. The location of the pole in question was arranged under the supervision of the State Highway Department. It was placed outside of the traveled portion of the highway, 8.8 feet from the edge...

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  • Greene v. Town of Valdese
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • 2 June 1982
    ...defined by the Supreme Court of South Carolina as "that which is possible of reasonable performance." Woody v. South Carolina Power Co., 202 S.C. 73, 81, 24 S.E.2d 121, 124 (1943); Locklear v. Southeastern Stages, Inc., 193 S.C. 309, 316, 8 S.E.2d 321, 324 (1940). Accord Moore v. Wilder, 66......

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