utility-power-station“Good utility practice” generally refers to the industry-based practices and methods utilized by a significant portion of a given utility.  It can also be used as a situation term, referring to the practices or approach a utility could have been expected to use to accomplish a particular result, consistent with or compared to industry practices.

Good utility practice might be the key for your case when your utilities expert takes the stand.  Two interesting recent cases show the value of an expert witness who knows good utility practice.  In one case, the plaintiffs alleged a failure to implement and exercise good utilities practices with respect to the maintenance, repair, and improvements of the cooling towers at a nuclear power plan, resulting in significantly reduced power output.  In another case, a wrongful death lawsuit, a claim was made that the failure to properly and adequately operate, inspect, maintain, and repair electric utility equipment in accordance with good utility practice resulted in the death of a first responder.

Good utility practices are cases based in tort, contract, and violations of government laws and regulations.  Industries that reflect good utility practices include water, power, and telecommunications.  In each of these cases and industries, you’ll find expert witnesses to bring the theory and fact pattern of your case to life.

In some industries, good utility practices are set out in writing, such as those publicized by the American Public Power Association.  The APPA joins not-for-profit, publicly-owned electrical utilities.  An expert witness on good utility practices would have the ability to speak not only to the written expectations of the parties and to the legal requirements, but also to the methods of other companies within the industry and any industry association-written good utility practices.

One way that the expert witness uses utility practice industry standards, including written standards, is to benchmark a company’s action against the standards.  For example, how did the utility company respond to conditions presented during an ice storm or other natural disaster, as compared to the written disaster management plan?  Were sufficient emergency crews activated?  Did crews from neighboring utility companies liaise with the local crews and follow the local emergency protocols?

Although on a typical day, we might take our water, lights, and heat or air conditioning for granted, the hazards can be real – for customers and workers, alike.  The expert witness in good utility practice can both bring the lawyer up to speed and impart a deeper appreciation of the responsibilities owed by utility companies.

By: Paloma A. Capanna, Attorney at Law