We’ve all seen the commercials: “Call before you dig.” But how does calling 811 before you dig help, and what’s required for underground facility owners and contractors performing excavation work? Continue reading for a brief summary of the Louisiana Underground Utilities and Facilities Damage Prevention Law (La. R.S. 40:1749.11, et seq.) (“Dig Law”).

The stated purpose of the Dig Law is the “protection of property, workmen, and citizens in the immediate vicinity of an underground facility or utility from damage, death, or injury and to promote the health and well-being of the community by preventing the interruption of essential services which may result from the destruction of, or damage to, underground facilities or utilities.”[1] Interestingly, protection of the underground facility or utility itself is not expressly included as a stated purpose. Generally, the Dig Law makes it illegal for any person to perform any excavation or demolition without first ascertaining the location of all underground utilities and facilities by providing telephonic or electronic notice to the regional notification center (i.e., 811) at least 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) before starting any excavation or demolition.[2] The requirement to “call before you dig” does not apply to activities by operators or land owners excavating their own underground facilities or utilities on their own property.[3]

Conversely, each operator of underground facilities in the state must participate in and share the cost of the regional notification center, including providing the center with the general location of its underground facilities.[4] When the regional notification center receives a notice of intent to excavate, it notifies each member operator having utilities or facilities near the site of the proposed excavation. Once notified, the operator of the utility or facility must provide the excavator with the specific location and type of all its underground utilities or facilities. This information is most commonly provided via visible marks on the ground of various shapes and colors, commonly including paint and flags, which denote the location and type of facilities present in the area. The Dig Law requires that the location provided be within 18 inches of either side of the actual facility location.[5] Many utility owners and operators contract with locating companies to provide the required information.

Although the operator of the underground facility or utility must provide information concerning the location, an excavator must take additional precautions to prevent damage, including planning the excavation to avoid damage, maintaining a safe clearance from the facilities, providing support for the facilities, and digging test pits or “potholing” to determine the actual location of certain facilities or utilities.[6] In the event of any damage to an underground facility or utility, the excavator must immediately notify the owner or operator of the facility of the location and nature of the damage.[7] The excavator must provide additional notices and take further action if the damage permits the escape of any flammable, toxic, or corrosive fluids or gases, including alerting appropriate emergency response personnel.[8]

An excavator is liable for any damage to a utility or facility caused by its negligence, and in the event of a lawsuit between an owner or operator and an excavator involving damage to underground facilities or utilities, the prevailing party is entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees.[9] In addition to lawsuits between the parties, both excavators and utility owners may be subject to additional penalties for violations of the Dig Law.[10] The Dig Law may be enforced by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections or any local law enforcement agency via administrative proceedings.[11]

If you have any questions or need assistance with any Dig Law issues, please visit the Louisiana 811 website (https://www.louisiana811.com/) or reach out to our construction team for help (https://www.keanmiller.com/construction.html).

[1] La. R.S. 40:1749.11(B).

[2] La. R.S. 40:1749.13.

[3] Id.

[4] La. R.S. 40:1749.14.

[5] Id.

[6] La. R.S. 40:1749.16.

[7] La. R.S. 40:1749.17.

[8] Id.

[9] La. R.S. 40:1749.14(F).

[10] La. R.S. 40:1749.20.

[11] La. R.S. 40:1749.27.