April 15, 2012
By Terry Murphy CLP

Terry MurphyWhat should you do if you hit a utility line? The fact that you struck and damaged a utility line puts some liability onto you. The question is how to minimize and mitigate your liability and the subsequent costs.

At the time of the hit, do not be concerned about who is at fault. Immediately look to the aspect of safety and protection of your own personnel, the public and any other damage protection aspects.


Immediate action required

Here are some things required from you to minimize your liability and protect yourself if you strike a utility line:
  • Immediately call the appropriate utility, or Ontario One Call (1-800-400-2255) to ensure they know that there has been a utility hit.
  • Protect the danger area by placing pylons or yellow tape to seal it off, so that the public cannot wander into the danger area.
  • Let your office know your location, in case they need to contact you.
  • Stay a safe distance from the hit, and make sure nobody goes in the vicinity of the damage.
  • Make sure your locate paperwork is available for the utility company, and or TSSA when officials arrive. It should always be on the person doing the excavation.
  • Record everything that you can about the hit (your accident investigation) with the thought that you may have to go to court sometime in the future and defend your position in a liability suit.
  • Get names of any witnesses who are present and make sure they have observed the position of your digging and the relative position of the actual locate markings.
  • Take photographs and drawings of the site, the digging area, locate marking lines, etc., as you may need an actual description of the damage.  

Incorrect locates

There have been cases of an incorrect locate, where the actual utility line is not in the position that it was given on the locate paperwork.

If the locate paperwork is incorrect, having a picture of dig area showing the locate markings and your trenching will help prove your point. Witnesses can verify this point. Once the locate markings disappear, then nobody can determine if the contractor was at fault, or if it was the locate company. We have heard of meetings with locate companies a month or two after the hit date, and the markings are gone. It is your word against the locate company. Establish the facts immediately after the hit, even if it means having a meeting with the locate company. You need a photograph of the locate markings and your dig area to verify your facts.

If you hit a utility, you will receive an invoice from TSSA for between $700 and $800, as well as one from the utility company for an estimated repair bill of $1,500 to $2,000. This will come well after the hit date. Clearly establish on the day of the hit if the locate was incorrect. It will help when you go to court. These costs should be covered by the locate company, not the contractor. However, because the contractor actually hit the utility, he must prove that it was not his error, nor his responsibility. No innocent until proven guilty here.

Ensure your due diligence following a utility hit. It will save you a lot of time and money.
Terry Murphy can be reached at tvmurphy@ca.inter.net.