The RI Supreme Court ruled that National Grid is not responsible for injuries sustained by a trespasser at an electric utility substation in 2014. The high court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that she was owed a duty of care under the law.
Most premises liability laws release property owners from personal injury liability for injuries sustained by trespassers on their property.
Losing a Hand to Electric Shock
Then 18-year-old Flavia Linnea Borgo and a fellow student from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) enter the property of an electric utility substation on April 5, 2014. According to court records, the two were taking photographs for a school “cityscape project.”
There were two adjacent buildings on the property on South Street in Providence – an active substation owned by National Grid and a decommissioned power station that was not.
After climbing to the roof of the old power station, Borgo and her classmate went down a ladder and through a window of an adjacent building. Borgo was walking through a building on the property when she came by a door to a cabinet containing electrical equipment. When her body touched the equipment, she was shocked and fell to the ground in a seizure.
Borgo’s injuries were extensive and required surgeons to amputate her left hand. She spent two months in the hospital recovering from her injuries.
Lawsuit File in Providence Superior Court
Borgo filed a complaint in Providence Superior Court in 2016. She alleged that National Grid “had a duty to maintain its substation … in reasonably safe condition” and did not do so. She said, as a result, she suffered “severe and permanent injuries to her mind and body.”
National Grid argued that it owed no such duty because Borgo was an adult trespasser and filed a motion for summary judgment in 2020. A Superior Court judge granted that motion.
In her appeal, Borgo countered that the location was improperly maintained, and that company should have known that repeated trespassers accessed the substation. The site also violated safety standards for public utilities.
No Duty of Care Owed to Trespassers
The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in the favor of National Grid in June 2022. While referring to the incident as a “tragic accident,” Chief Justice Paul Suttell wrote in the opinion that National Grid would have been liable only if the company actually discovered a trespasser in a position of danger. The judge said regulation violations were irrelevant to the case.
National Grid is now Rhode Island Energy.
Supreme Court Has Ruled Against Other Trespassers
The ruling in Borgo v. National Grid is not the first time that the state’s high court has ruled against a trespasser. The case of Burton v. State of Rhode Island involved 17-year-old Steven Burton. He and a group of friends drank beer and then decided to explore the former Ladd Center in Exeter in 2005. Formerly known as the Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded, the Ladd Center was founded in 1907 and closed permanently in 1994. The rumor was the property was haunted.
The boys discovered that the first two stories were secured but they found an accessible third-floor window. They climbed up a pipe and made entry despite posted no-trespassing signs. Using the light from their cell phones, they explored the property. Among their finds were gallon-sized glass bottles filled with a substance.
One of the bottles smashed, splattering Burton and one of his friends. Burton experienced extreme burning sensations on his legs and hands. The two boys went to a hospital. The liquid was later identified as sulfuric acid.
Burton filed a lawsuit against the state, which controlled the property. The lawsuit asked the court to apply the “attractive nuisance” doctrine in which property owners are responsible for attracting children to potentially unsafe areas. The Superior Court, while sympathetic to Burton, sided with the State of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Supreme Court came to the same conclusion.
Rhode Island Premises Liability Law
Rhode Island premises liability laws generally bar someone from personal injury compensation if they were hurt during trespassing or other illegal activity. In other situations, a property owner has a duty to use reasonable care to ensure the safety of persons who are reasonably expected to use the premises.
Send us an online message or call (401) 351-7700.