After hearing argument in October of last year, the Washington Supreme Court recently rejected tort claims based on exposure to Electromagnetic Fields ("EMF") from a utility substation. The decision is an important milestone in the effort to protect electric utilities from EMF claims with dubious scientific support. The case, entitled Lakey v. Puget Sound Energy, arises from Puget Sound Energy's routine upgrade of an electric substation in a Kirkland, Washington neighborhood. Because the upgrade required relatively minor variances from the local zoning code, PSE sought variances from the City of Kirkland. Neighboring property owners unsuccessfully fought the variance. They then sued PSE, seeking damages for exposure to EMF from the substation and the City of Kirkland under an inverse condemnation theory. The trial court rejected both claims, citing in part the plaintiffs' expert scientific testimony as unreliable, and rejected the inverse condemnation claim on legal grounds. The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the trial court’s rejetion of both claims. According to the World Health Organization, the scientific evidence on EMF accumulated over the last few decades has found no link between EMF exposure and health effects, especially at lower levels of exposure. Accordingly, in the absence of a major change in this scientific consensus, the court's decision means it will be difficult or impossible for plaintiffs to maintain an EMF claim against electric utilities in Washington.
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