California Law on Personal Injury Caused by Dangerous Activities
What is California law on personal injury caused by dangerous activities or instrumentalities? What activities are considered so “dangerous” that they require extra caution under the laws of the State of California? I thought I would explore this topic:What Does CA law Deem to be a Dangerous Activity or Hazardous Instrument?
The legal term of art used for activities which involve a high degree of risk and, therefore, require a high level of care is “ultrahazardous”. Whether something rises to the level of being ultrahazardous is a “question of law” in CA (i.e. it is for the court or judge to decide rather than a jury). The factors analyzed in answering this question are as follows:
- The existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to people or property;
- The likelihood that harm from the activity or use of the instrument will be great;
- The inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care;
- The extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage;
- Whether the activity is taking place in an inappropriate environment; and
- The extent to which the value of the activity to the community as a whole is outweighed by its dangerous atrributes.
The term “common usage” means is the activity carried on by large percentage of the population or something that is fairly uncommon and still inherently dangerous. For example, use of noxious and potentially toxic materials like sulfuric acid may be common in small quantities but, storage of vast amounts of such chemicals may be uncommon. Likewise, if a mining or utility company were to engage in blasting in an isolated area, this may not be deemed “ultrahazardous” but, the same explosion in a populated area may very well be determined to be extremely dangerous to life and limb.Examples of Ultrahazardous Activities or Instrumentalities Under California Law
Based upon the above factors and analysis, the California Appellate Courts have provided examples of activities and the handling of items that are deemed extremely dangerous as follows:
- The use of hydrocyanic acid gas in fumigating a commercial structure.
- Test firing of a large rocket
- Oil well drilling causing a natural gas pressure blow out
- The use of explosives near a residential area.
- Electric power lines are considered dangerous instrumentalities.
- Dangerous instruments can also include fire, firearms, ammunition, explosives, and highly flammable, corrosive or noxious fluids.
California law states that people engaging in hazardous activities or handling hazardous materials in certain situations are required to use more than “reasonable care” but, rather “extreme caution”. In fact, California Civil Jury Instruction 414 reads as follows:
“People must be extremely careful when they deal with dangerous items or participate in dangerous activities... The risk of harm is so great that the failure to use extreme caution is negligence.”
One example of this is the handling of electrical power lines and the transmission of electric power by utility companies which requires the following:
“ People and companies must be very careful in constructing, insulating, inspecting, maintaining, and repairing power lines and transmission equipment at all places where it is reasonably probable that they will cause harm to persons or property.”The Need to Retain an Attorney in California Familiar With Personal Injury Claims Related to Dangerous Activities
Let’s face it, when something goes awry in the handling of a dangerous activity, the injuries can be catastrophic and even fatal. They can cause widespread chemical or radiant heat burns, loss of limbs, and even death. Consulting a lawyer familiar with the California legal process and duties required of utility companies and other institutions charged with the utmost duty of care to use “extreme caution” can make a huge difference in being able to obtain full and complete compensation for medical costs and expenses and for the physical pain and emotional toll these incidents can cause.