TORT RELATING TO ELECTRICITY

In recent times, it can be said that electricity is one of the most dangerous resources that we are using. As correctly stated by the hon’ble jury in Geismann v. Missouri Eddison Electric Company, 173 Mo. 654, 73 S.W 654 (1903), "Electricity is a most subtle and dangerous agency. It lurks unsuspectedly in the simple and harmless wire and gives no warning of its dangerous presence. Wherefore, it is uniformly held that an electric company employing wires charged with this subtle and violent agency in streets, highways and other public places is in duty bound either to insulate such wires or place them beyond the range of contact with persons rightfully using such ways and to exercise the utmost care to keep them so.”



There are several instances in India where someone has lost their life because of a loose electric wire being left on road or a short circuit that caused fire but still there are no such direct law that affects the perpetrators in such a case as it would do in the United States but the remedy for any issues relating to electricity in tort could be found in the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.


According to the law dictionary, the term, res ipsa loquitur means ‘the thing speaks for itself’. This is the defense that can be used to prove that the defendant has been negligent in his conduct. It is circumstantial evidence that can be used to hold the defendant responsible under the reason that the happening of an accident is proof enough of the negligence of the defendant.



In Ramawati Kuer v. State of Bihar (2005) ACJ 665 Pat., a 55-year-old practicing advocate died due to a live electric wire falling on him. The defendant had contested that it was not negligent and no one had complained about the wire but they failed to prove the same. Therefore, the defendant was held liable under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and had to compensate the victim’s widow and children, the amount of Rs. 2,00,000/-


Therefore, in case of utilities as dangerous as electrical wires, lines, etc. the standard duty of the competent authority should be to maintain a standard of care that is expected of a man to prudence. In instances of mishaps and accidents due to negligence, they are ought to provide compensation.




ELECTROCUTION

Electrocution is when a person suffers great injury or loses his life due to electric shock. It may be because of coming in contact with naked or faulty wires which might be the result of Electricity Board’s negligence or the person’s own negligence.


ELECTRIC BOARD’S LIABILITY IN CASE OF ELECTROCUTION

When a person loses his life or is injured due to electrocution, it is the Electric Board’s liability to prove that due care was taken and failure of the same shall result in the Electric Board compensating the victim or the claimants as and when in the case.



In M.P Electricity Board v. Sunder Bai AIR 2006 MP 137 (Indore Bench), the victim lost his life due to burns that were caused because of being in contact with naked wires. The Electric Board failed to prove that due care was taken and the accident was not the result of their negligence. The Court ordered the Electric Board to pay Rs. 84,000/- taking in account the income of Rs. 600/- per month of the victim and after deducting one-third.


Similarly, in another case, Haryana State Electricity Board v. Ram Nath, 2005 ACJ 42 (SC), a child lost her life coming in contact with live high-tension lines that were apparently touching the house’s roof being loose and drooping. The petitioner and the other residents had already complained about the same to the Electric Board much prior to the accident and had requested that the wires be tightened. The Electric Board did not heed to the complaints. The Electric Board contested that the wires have been at the height that has been prescribed i.e., at the height of 20 feet above the ground level but the colony was unauthorized and that the heights of the houses were raised in violation of the law. The Hon’ble High Court held the Electric Board liable stating the following reasons:



i. If the Board knew that the houses of the colony had raised the height without authorization, they should have acted as a responsible entity and should have complained of that to the competent authority to have them demolished.

ii. Even if the houses were unauthorized, it was the Board’s duty to take care of the wires when complaints of the loose and drooping wires were lodged with them and should have made sure the wires are at a height which would not have caused any hazard to any persons living in the houses.

Therefore, the Hon'ble High Court holding the Electric Board responsible, directed the Electric Board to pay the compensation of Rs. 1 lakh for the claimants who were the parents of the five-year-old girl. Later, the Hon’ble Supreme Court also held up the same award.



COMPENSATION IN CASE OF DEATH DUE TO ELECTROCUTION

When calculating the compensation for the claimants, the Court must be just and the principle of mathematics should not be applied. The compensation in such cases is provided in prescription with the Indian Fatal Accident Act, 1955 but it is also true that under the said Act there is no prescribed damages for the mental suffering, the grief of the victims or the claimants. But when we take in account the dependency of the family members on the victim, the Hon’ble Court may provide damages or compensation that is essential for the survivors and other important aspects of the claimants.



For instance, in the case of Managing Director, Western Electricity Supply Co. of Orissa Ltd. And Anr. V. Smt. Kunti Sa and Anr. (AIR 2005 Ori. 188), a 25-year-old manager had come in contact with a stray wire of the electric pole while working. Normally, this does not come under the purview of electrocution but the dependent, in this case, his wife had filed for compensation. Therefore, accounting on all the facts, the Court found it just for the wife to be compensated with the amount of Rs. 1,51,200/-.


SOURCES OF THE ARTICLE

1-https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4332&context=law_lawreview

2-Dr. R. K Bangia, Law of Torts (21st Edition), Allahabad Law Agency, Pg No. 130 – 132.



This article is written by Samudrika Majumdar, of Techno India University, West Bengal.

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