Double Pole Dilemma: Who Pays When Something Goes Wrong?

Small business owner on the Cape can’t get anyone to take responsibility for double pole that damaged vehicle

James Shaughnessy stared at the damaged vehicle on his property, and jokingly called it his "Saab story."

It's an ordeal that has been frustrating the Hyannis small business owner for months.

"It's a thorn in my side because it's still there. I see it every day," Shaughnessy said.

Shaughnessy owns an oil delivery and tank removal businesses on the Cape. He also sells used cars and told NBC10 Boston he was about to unload the Saab to an interested buyer when a power pole came crashing down last February.

The car, which had been sitting unregistered and uninsured on his lot, was deemed a total loss.

"I would like to see some compensation to some degree," Shaughnessy said. "Not just for me, but anyone who has this similar situation happen to them."

It has been an uphill battle from the beginning.

Here is the situation with the pole that landed on Shaughnessy's car: Back in the winter of 2018, a nor'easter damaged power poles and knocked out power in the area.

Utility crews quickly arrived and installed a new pole at the location near Shaughnessy's business. They left the old pole that had sustained storm damage strapped to a nearby tree.

It's called a double pole and as the NBC10 Boston Investigators highlighted in June, there are more than 16,000 of the eyesores dotting the landscape of towns throughout Massachusetts.

The poles can certainly appear unsightly, but is there a bigger concern?

"I think safety is the real issue," Shaughnessy said. "I mean what if a pole came down and hit a family?"

In an ideal scenario, crews arrive and install a new power pole, anchoring it to the damaged one to keep it from falling.

The web of wires on the old poles then needs to be transferred to the new pole one by one. That starts with the power lines at the top and then progresses to other entities that have attachments on the pole, including telephone companies, cable companies and municipalities.

Until all that coordination is complete, the old pole can't be removed.

Thousands of double power poles are languishing in neighborhoods across Massachusetts. In this animation, Ryan Kath explains why they are installed in the first place.

State law gives companies 90 days to remove double poles. However, the NBC10 Boston investigation found it takes an average of 34 months, according to state records. That's almost three years!

Shaughnessy contacted the NBC10 Boston Investigators after seeing our June story.

In his case, the double pole remained near his business for nearly a year with wires hanging low across the road.

And then last February, a truck driving down Willow Avenue clipped the wires, pulling down the old pole with it.

Thus began Shaughnessy's unsuccessful effort to find out who is responsible.

"It's a runaround," he said. "Everybody points fingers."

Up first: the truck driver's insurance company, which determined the lines "were not strung at legal height." Shaughnessy's claim was denied.

Eversource said its crews had already transferred its wires from the old pole to the new pole prior to the accident. Another claim denied.

Comcast also refuted their wires were involved. (Comcast is the parent company of NBC, which owns this station.)

That only left Verizon, which owns the pole and typically has the lowest wires. However, the telecommunications giant said its wires were moved when crews installed the new pole in March 2018.

"Verizon wires were not involved and therefore, we will not be able to honor the claim," read a letter that Shaughnessy received.

NBC10 contacted Eversource, Comcast and Verizon. Spokespeople for the respective companies all reiterated their equipment did not cause the accident that damaged Shaughnessy's vehicle.

Civil litigation attorney Marsha Kazarosian, a former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, reviewed photos and documents related to the incident. She agreed the conflicting accounts make it difficult to determine who should be liable.

"It's incredibly murky," Kazarosian said. "It's almost like a question you'd get on the bar exam."

Town and city leaders say double poles languish in their communities for so long because there is no punishment.

Organizations like the Mass Municipal Association are calling on lawmakers to give them the ability to fine utility companies when they don't follow the 90-day statute.

For Shaughnessy, the Saab might not be expensive, but a little accountability would be worth a lot.

"It's not the matter of money," he expressed. "Just a little respect from one business to another."

Ryan Kath can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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