An Unsuccessful Claim for Personal Injury: A Case Study
When a fifteen year old boy ventured into a highly dangerous electricity substation, he went to extreme lengths to retrieve his football. Although he was over six feet tall, it was still remarkable that he managed to climb over a railed fence which was taller than him, and scramble over other parts of the substation that had anti-climbing devices around them. Finally, he reached an eight foot high wall. Undeterred, he found three pieces of wood lying on the ground and managed to make a makeshift ladder out of them. This enabled him to get over the fence and into the highly dangerous part of the substation.
The AccidentHis determination had devastating consequences. He came into contact with an electrical bar that was carrying 66,000 volts. He suffered burns to over half of his body and one of his legs had to be amputated below the knee. Of course, he had to take some of the blame for what had happened as it was because of his determination that he suffered the injury.
The Legal CaseHis legal team, however, thought differently. They could not argue that the boy had put himself at risk. They argued, however, that the electricity company that owned and was responsible for maintenance of the substation hadn’t taken sufficient care to ensure that something like this could never potentially happen.
The Defence CaseThe electricity company argued that it had identified the substation as being at a high risk of unauthorized entry. It was very near a housing estate and as such they arranged for a representative to check the substation on a monthly basis. The boy’s lawyers stated that, although the electricity company was under a duty to assess the risk, they had not taken adequate steps to ensure that no-one could enter the substation.
The question for the court was whether the accident that the boy had suffered could have been foreseen as a real risk by the electricity company. If they could have foreseen the accident, had they taken sufficient steps to prevent it? Naturally, the lawyers argued that they hadn’t, and sought to prove this on the basis that:
- one side of one of the structures did not have an anti-climbing device
- the three pieces of wood were readily available for the boy to use as a makeshift ladder
- checking the substation on a monthly basis was not sufficient to counteract the risk of unauthorized entry
The JudgmentThe court decided that the electricity company had put enough preventative measures in place to stop unauthorized entry into the substation. When undertaking the balance exercise between measures they had to put in place, and the risk of injury to someone who trespassed into the substation, they had acted appropriately. As a result, the court determined that the nature of the accident could not have reasonably been foreseen by the electricity company. Accordingly, they were not liable for damages and no award for compensation was made to the boy.
This case shows that it is possible to have an accident which is not anyone else’s fault. Although this accident had tragic consequences for the boy in question, he did put himself at significant risk of death or serious harm. He did not dispute that, but sought to prove that the electricity company was partially to blame.