CenterPoint Says No Bike Trails Without ‘Additional Liability Protection’

CENTERPOINT SAYS NO BIKE TRAILS WITHOUT ‘ADDITIONAL LIABILITY PROTECTION’ Houston lawmakers Sarah Davis and Jim Murphy have each introduced a bill to the state legislature that would have more bike trails built here along CenterPoint-owned utility rights-of-way, but the energy provider’s response seems to StateImpact reporter Dave Fehling a little overprotective: “a CenterPoint media liaison said it would permit trails ‘if — and only if — the Texas Legislature provides additional liability protection to CenterPoint from people entering its rights of way.’” Fehling adds: “What has resulted, though, are bills that would give what lawyers say is almost blanket immunity to CenterPoint Energy should someone get hurt on company property while using it for recreation, even if CenterPoint was ‘grossly negligent.’” [StateImpact; previously on Swamplot] Photo: StateImpact

28 Comment

  • What a time we live in where you have to have all this liability insurance and waivers to protect yourself from lawsuit abusing lawyers and their “vistims”

  • Benny is right. Legislation for power right of way bike paths was introduced in the last Texas legislative session, too. It was the trial lawyers and their lobbyists who killed it. The immunity would have eaten into their fees for liability lawsuits.
    .
    It should be noted that it’s pretty easy, right now, to walk onto one of these power rights of way. There are no fences or protective measures to keep people out. It wasn’t an issue for anyone until they talked about writing laws and putting hike and bike trails on them. Then the lawyers said “what what what!?”

  • Y, interesting times when only the threat of a lawsuit will compel corporations to make their products safe enough to stand next to.

  • You just know all those bikers can’t wait to climb those transmission poles.

  • Who’s the bad guy here? Centerpoint Energy is VOLUNTEERING the land use of their property for the public good, all they ask for in return is that when we choose to ride our bikes up & down the infrastructure used for the power transmission of our city instead of the far right side of the street, that we do so at our own risk. Maybe we need to remember that Centerpoint isn’t in the business of making parks!

  • Why would a corporation who owns it right of away agree to accept any additional liability at all? It would be grossly negligent of them to do so. They receive zero benefit from you riding a bike under the lines, but incurr liability should part of the upright break in high wind and crash onto the biker? Its a truly ridiculous world we live in that anyone would expect them to agree to that! Its private property. If you want the permission to ride or hike on it, then sign away your rights if your hurt!

    I happen to agree with centerpoint here….any executive who would agree to this is certainly not acting in the best interests of his company unless he obtains immunity.

  • Engineers,doctors, entrepreneurs build and fix things…. lawyers sue people who build and fix things!

  • Maybe all of the commenters above would be fine with strangers coming on their property, and being liable if a tree limb or piece of their gutters fell and hit that person in the head. I wouldn’t be ok with that arrangement, but you guys seem to be more charitable I guess.

  • Centerpoint is playing a game of liability arbitrage and the city/state is playing along when they should be sharpening their eminent domain ax.

  • I dont think Centerpoint is afraid their electrical equipment will fall and strike a biker. I think that they are afraid of the biker that crashes and breaks an arm, get obnoxious lawyer, and sues them for not using softer asphalt and for allowing bikers to use this “unsafe” surface. This is why we dont have much manufacturing anymore, too much liability, let the chinese build it. Id bet that your average doctor pays more in malpractice insurance than they do in rent.

  • Virtuous_Jim
    Who needs consent when we can take it!

  • What some of our more zealous commenters overlook in their rush to bash is that there has to be something CenterPoint did that it shouldn’t have, or that it didn’t do when it should have, before anybody is going to get anywhere with a lawsuit. To then demand that they not even have to worry about gross negligence (in other words, we KNOW we don’t care, and don’t care that we don’t care) – that’s just offensive.

  • @ Steve; Centerpoint is not your typical business, they have a gov’t sanctioned monopoly on transmission lines. Using eminent domain would absolve them of liability and let folks use the trails.

  • Mollusk, gross negligence can be as simple as not maintaining the path, despite knowledge that there’s a pothole on it. Does this sound like something a powerline company wants to willingly accept responsibility for?

    But more importantly, it doesn’t matter whether a plaintiff “would get anywhere with a lawsuit.” As soon as one is filed – or dozens – the litigation clock starts ticking at $300 an hour. It can take a long time and a whole lot of attorneys fees to make even a bogus (but competently filed) lawsuit go away. Tell me again why an electric transmission company would willingly bring that on themselves.

  • heyzeus, is there any way that the legal (justice?) system could conceivably be modified to stem the potential costs arising from defense of bogus lawsuits, not just by corporations but by individuals as well?

  • I thought the way this was supposed to work was that the local government (city/county) was going to get an easement for trails. The local government would then be responsible for maintaining the trails. So, to the extent sovereign immunity is not a bar, you could sue the governmental entity if there was a hazardous condition on the trail that they knew about but failed to repair/warm. The issue with Centerpoint is that they do not want to be liable if one of their power lines falls on the trail and electrocutes someone. The risk of this happening is so slight that I have no problem granting them immunity, except in the case of gross negligence, which is a lot more than knowing that there is a pot hole and failing to fix it.

  • i live within view of a centerpoint easement & like others have said they do VERY LITTLE to secure their property! i can tell you i’ve personally witnessed cars, trucks dumping all sorts of waste, people/kids playing, dirt bikes, 4-wheelers etc on their property on SEVERAL ocassions. dare i mention all the broken glass that litters their sidewalk along their property that can’t a person can’t even walk down b/c there’s no place to step to avoid all the glass. i’d love to have a word w/this centerpoint rep that’s so concerned about their liabilty. they’ve been reported to the city by many neighbors & nothing ever gets accomplished. concerned!?! what a crock!

  • I can’t say for certain, but I would guess that CenterPoint’s concern has nothing to do with lawsuits stemming from power lines falling across bike trails. Rather, I would bet that CenterPoint does not want to have to fight the inevitable wave of frivolous lawsuits filed by helmetless bikers who fall off of their bikes while ogling pretty girls (or similar mishaps that occur through no fault of CenterPoint)!

  • If the city wanted to route a bunch of hikers and bikers through my property, I’d do the same thing. Frivolous lawsuits have nothing to do with it. In Texas, the owners of property owe a duty to people they invite to their property. If you are a store, it’s easy to monitor your premises and make sure that a a hazard, like a hole in the floor, is cordoned off and marked (if you know the hole is there, know it’s dangerous, don’t mark it, and the customer you invite to your store breaks his ankle, you get to pay for his medical bills). If you are a utility with hundreds of miles of easement that is not designed for recreation, and suddenly the state invites thousands of people onto your property (which is not designed for that purpose), you are looking at problems.

    Fortunately for Centerpoint, there are a number of laws concerning recreational use that shield them from these types of lawsuits. But, considering how stringently they regulate their easements and the reasons for doing so (beause they are not the safest places in the world), I’d want immunity too.

  • Zaw:
    Liability protection would not eat into the fees of the trial attorneys, because there are no lawsuits against the companies based on trails that don’t yet exist. Nothing would be lost to the trial attorneys.

  • I was told by a development person that CenterPoint is practically the only utility in the state that seems to worry about this. In Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, etc., the utilities are perfectly fine with the idea. It’s only in Houston that our utility is convinced of rampant death and lawsuits. Not sure if that’s a worse comment on them or us…

  • Lawyers BAD. Corporations GOOD. Such simple times simpletons live in.

  • heyzeus, gross negligence is defined as involving an extreme degree of risk when viewed objectively from the standpoint of
    the defendant, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; AND the defendant has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others (paraphrased from the Texas Pattern Jury Charge).

    In other words, you know it’s extremely dangerous, it’s probably going to hurt somebody, badly, and you make a decision not to care what happens to anybody.

    In my experience, the legal system is pretty good at weeding out the chaff. You hear about the occasional crazy stuff precisely because it IS news, as in something that doesn’t happen very often.

  • NO, we dont just “hear” about the frivilous lawsuits, we see lawyeers on TV commercials trolling for them… “have you ever felt a burning feeling while breathing air in texas?” call fast chuck, THE Texas lawyer, blah blah blah. ULTIMATELY the taxpayers pay for these frivilous suits. Whether it is asbestosis, rubber boob jobs, smoking cigarettes catching lung cancer, bad nose job, or whatever, I can tell you the corporations are fed up. This is why everything is made in China and Mexico. look at these stupid drug commercials, “side efects could be heavy breathing, sneezing, headache, upset stomach, loss of thought, wtf.. I bet Centerpoint has had at least one person electrocuted while stealing copper and tried to sue them, It really is ridiculous. I agree with Centerpoint on this one

  • Kylejack – Perhaps I should have reworded that. The trial lawyers fought the legislation because they feared it would hurt business down the line. More protection from liability means fewer lawsuits which in turn means fewer billable hours for lawyers.

  • So, to all the nay-Sayers. Harris County Flood Control has allowed hike and bike trails along their bayous. Lawyers please correct me if I am wrong, but as a governmental agency, HCFCD enjoys protections from liability on these bayou green ways.
    .
    If Centerpoint is so kind as to allow similar green ways on their power rights of way, why shouldn’t they enjoy similar protections from liability?

  • Let’s simmer down now.
    Why does the City, or anybody, want to build paths in these ROWs?
    Anybody who wants to run, jump, dirt-bike and exercise the dog along these tracts can knock themselves out. Already. Literally even.
    A landowner who states ‘No Treaspassing’ -by signage or by purple paint – can’t be sued by bumbling joggers or hepped-up teenagers who use the property. Adding paths, benches, signs, water fountains, shade structures and whatever… will invite lawsuits and require maintenance.
    Keep things simple and the ROWs just as they have been.

  • OK, then, it’s settled! Because mollusk, old school and others wish for the right to sue Centerpoint if they get hurt on Centerpoint’s land, Centerpoint says no easements.

    That was easy. Don’t you guys feel better that you stood up to evil Centerpoint?

    You know, you could just refuse to ride on their trails, if the no liability thing was such a concern. Much better that you screw the rest of us willing to ride at our own risk.