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Suit Over Michigan Power-Line Death Revived

(CN) - A power company may be liable to the family of a woman who died after being set on fire by a downed electrical line, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled.

On a warm, clear night in the summer of 2011, Catherine Skidmore noticed that her neighbor's van was on fire, according to court records.

Ralph Skidmore saw that a power line had fallen on top of the van. Catherine ran across the street to warn her neighbor, Roody Cooper.

Neighbors called for Catherine to stop, but the power line wrapped around her legs and set her on fire. Efforts to save Catherine with a fire extinguisher failed, and she died.

Catherine's estate sued Consumers Energy Co. for negligence and infliction of emotional distress. Ralph and his neighbors testified that Consumers' electrical lines had been problematic for years.

Consumers argued that it was not foreseeable that Catherine would run across the street into a downed power line. The trial court agreed.

The estate appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the summary judgment on Jan. 19, allowing the estate to continue its case.

"Consumers fails to comprehend that the risks of accidental contact with a live power line suspended in the air and accidental contact with a live power line on the ground are fundamentally different," Judge Peter O'Connell wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The judge noted that Catherine was trying to warn her neighbor and that "reasonable minds could differ" over whether her actions were reasonable.

"Accordingly, the trial court erred when it granted summary disposition on the estate's claims on the basis that Consumers did not owe Catherine a duty," O'Connell wrote.

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