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APS Utility Liability

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Arizona utilities can't legally shield themselves from being sued when their negligence kills or harms people or destroys property, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Capitol Media Services reports an attorney for Arizona Public Service had argued that its tariffs- the rules that govern its relationship with customers- shield it from ordinary negligence. And that, said attorney David Gaona, precluded two people from seeking damages from APS after a fire allegedly caused by negligent maintenance of power lines, destroyed a home they owned in Maricopa County.

That same tariff, Gaona argued, also precluded a lawsuit by a woman who occupied the home.

But Appellate Judge Paul McMurdie, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said that misreads the law. He said utilities can protect themselves against incidental damage, such as economic losses from power interruptions and even damage to equipment due to voltage fluctuations. But McMurdie said none of that shields a utility from what happens when its negligence in maintaining the electrical distribution system actually does what is alleged to have happened here: cause a fire that burns down a house.