Gumz v. Northern States Power Co

In Gumz v. Northern States Power Co., 305 Wis.2d 263, 2007 WI 135, 742 N.W.2d 271, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict for plaintiffs in a stray voltage case. 2007 WI 135, at P 1-4, 305 Wis. 2d 263, 742 N.W.2d 271 and 21. As in the cases just discussed, the utility tested the plaintiffs' dairy farm and found voltage that was below the "level of concern." Id. at P 15 and 17. In fact, the utility tested twice, in 1996 and 1999, and found on both occasions that voltage was below the level of concern. Id. In 1996, the plaintiffs' expert found "much higher voltage levels flowing onto the farm" by using different testing equipment. However, the Wisconsin Supreme court did not specify either the type of equipment or the voltage level that was discovered. Gumz, 2007 WL 135, at P 15. Subsequently, when the voltage was tested again in 1999, there is no indication that either the defense or the plaintiffs' expert found voltage above the level of concern. Id. at P 17. The plaintiffs' expert testified that "exposure to stray voltage had a substantial adverse effect on the herd's production." Id. at P 19. In contrast, the defense expert concluded that the alleged damages were the result of a variety of factors, including poor herd management and nutrition. Id. at P 20. On appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed. On appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the defense contention that it could not be held liable for damages caused by its system without notice of a problem. Id. at P 74-77. The court observed that the utility's argument was inconsistent with prior cases, where "utilities were found liable for damages caused by stray voltage, even though the utilities did not know that stray voltage from their systems was causing damage to the plaintiffs." Id. at P 78.