Prior to the excavation of any location, a contractor has the responsibility of ensuring that his work will not damage any underground utilities near the work site. Discovery of local buried cables, sewer lines, natural gas pipes and other possible obstructions that could be damaged during excavation is done through the “One Call” system.
By requirement of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, 49 U.S.C.A. §60101, all municipalities are required to have One Call notification systems. In order to begin working, the contractor calls the notification system center and the system informs him of the local utilities affected by his proposed work site. New York State Industrial Code Rule 53 requires two to ten working days’ notice prior to the start date, not counting the date of the call. The One Call number for the five boroughs of New York City is (800) 272-4480, and each municipal area also has its own number.
The failure of a contractor to ascertain the location of utilities can result in liability on his part for damage to any utilities resulting from his work as well as consequential damages. Such was the case in Schaub Equip. Rental v Marzec, 186 A.D.2d 990, 588 N.Y.S.2d 952 (4th Dept. 1992), where defendant contractors failed to use the One Call system to identify any potential utilities underneath the property on which they were doing work. The contractors instead assumed that that all utility lines lay outside the property boundaries. The court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff on the issue of defendants’ negligence on the basis of the risk of striking underground utility lines during excavation being obvious to experienced contractors. Because of their duty to obtain this information, the court further found that the defendant contractors failed to do what a reasonable contractor would have done, i.e., to ascertain the location of dangerous utility lines by inquiring about potential utilities in the work zone pursuant to 12 NYCRR 53-3.
In Level 3 Communications, LLC v. Petrillo Contracting, Inc., 73 A.D.3d 865, 902 N.Y.S.2d 113 (2d Dept. 2010), the court similarly found for the plaintiffs, a communications company, as a result of the defendant contractor’s negligence resulting in damage to the plaintiff’s conduit and cable. The court found that the excavator violated his duty to avoid damage to the communication companies’ underground utilities while sawcutting into a roadway on a public street when he failed to comply with relevant statutory obligations imposed upon excavators. Such obligations including a duty to contact the one-call notification system prior to commencing excavation work, and the duty to verify the precise location, type, size, direction of run, and depth of any underground facilities in the area.
As demonstrated by the above cases, failure to notify the One Call system of intent to do excavation work is evidence of an excavator’s negligence in a resulting action against him. Being aware of possible utilities surrounding the property on which a contractor or excavator is doing excavation work is a part of the worker’s duty to surrounding property to be cognizant of and not damage it. Not confirming the location of local utilities easily opens the excavator to various liabilities if another’s property is damaged.