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Death Due To Electrocution: Madras High Court Applies Strict Liability Principle Against TANGEDCO To Order Compensation

Akshita Saxena
3 Nov 2020 10:26 AM GMT
Death Due To Electrocution: Madras High Court Applies Strict Liability Principle Against TANGEDCO To Order Compensation
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The Madras High Court on Monday ordered compensation to the parents of a 22 years old boy, who died due to electrocution after stepping on snapped live wire. The Bench of Justice G R Swaminathan ordered the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO) to pay a compensation of Rs.13,86,000/- to the bereaved family and offer a job of Junior Assistant,...

The Madras High Court on Monday ordered compensation to the parents of a 22 years old boy, who died due to electrocution after stepping on snapped live wire.

The Bench of Justice G R Swaminathan ordered the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO) to pay a compensation of Rs.13,86,000/- to the bereaved family and offer a job of Junior Assistant, on compassionate grounds, to the deceased's brother.

The order is significant inasmuch as the Court has adopted a unique method with respect to payment of compensation in case of death by electrocution and has even ordered compassionate employment in terms of a Supreme Court's ruling on restoration of status quo ante.

Justice Swaminathan took the case suo moto after seeing the deceased boy's father in the court, holding a petition. On enquiry, it was revealed that he had sent a letter petition to the Registrar (Judicial), Madurai Bench, Madras High Court seeking justice.

Stating that he "did not have the heart" to tell a grieving parent to consult a lawyer and file a proper writ petition before the High Court or a suit for compensation before the civil court, Justice Swaminathan said,

"I was reminded of the decision reported in (2013) 2 MLJ 302 (Arulmeri V. Superintendent of Engineer, TNEB) wherein it was authoritatively held that when the deceased was not at fault and the death had occurred due to fall of electric wire, there is no need for the dependent to go before the civil court and that relief can be granted in writ proceedings."

As per the facts revealed in the order, 22 yrs old Saravanan was returning home through the customary pathway, when he came in contact with a live overhanging wire, and died on spot, due to electrocution.

TANGEDCO had informed the Court that the accident was an Act of God inasmuch as the wire snapped due to movement of a squirrel. As recorded in the order,

"Squirrels are known to climb up the electric poles and meddle with the wires. In this case, while doing so, the tail of squirrel appears to have touched V-Cross arm. That led to passing of what is known as fault current. Since the line could not bear the heavy load, it had snapped. The snapped line had straightaway fallen on the ground, the feeder would have tripped and the electricity supply would have also stopped. But then, it had fallen on Karuvelam bushes that had grown underneath."

The Judge had also done a spot inspection, "in order to satisfy his conscience" and he was also of the opinion that the occurrence had taken place on account of rodent interference.

He observed that there was no squirrel guard installed on the electricity poles. "If the squirrel guards had been installed, probably the incident could have been averted," Justice Swaminathan speculated.

He further observed,

"If Karuvelam bushes beneath the electric lines had been cut and removed, probably the snapped line could have straightaway fallen on the ground and the feeder would have got tripped thereby disconnecting the supply of electricity. But these are "ifs" of life. On a overall consideration of the circumstances, I come to the conclusion that the tragedy is purely an Act of God and TANGEDCO cannot be fastened with any negligence as such."

However, the question before the Court was whether on that ground, TANGEDCO can be exonerated from its liability.

Justice Swaminathan said that this use is no longer res integra and by applying the principle of "Strict Liability", the Supreme Court had, in MP Electricity Board v. Shail Kumari & Ors., (2002) 2 SCC 162, held that,

"If the energy so transmitted causes injury or death of a human being, who gets unknowingly trapped into it the primary liability to compensate the sufferer is that of the supplier of the electric energy… It is no defence on the part of the management of the Board that somebody committed mischief by siphoning such energy to his private property and that the electrocution was from such diverted line. It is the look out of the managers of the supply system to prevent such pilferage by installing necessary devices. At any rate, if any live wire got snapped and fell on the public road the electric current thereon should automatically have been disrupted. Authorities manning such dangerous commodities have extra duty to chalk out measures to prevent such mishaps."

Based on this precedent, the Court directed TANGEDCO to pay compensation. It was held that compensation payable in such cases can be determined by applying the formula applied for computing damages in motor accident cases, computed as Rs.13,86,000/- in this case.

"I cannot stop with this," the Bench exclaimed at this juncture.

The Court ordered the company to offer a job to the bereaving parents' second son, on compassionate grounds.

Reliance was placed on Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, (1996) 5 SCC 647, whereby the Supreme Court had held that the polluter should not only compensate the victims of pollution but also bear the cost of restoring the environment to its original condition.

"The same proposition can be applied by way of analogy to the case on hand. It is not enough that TANGEDCO pays a certain amount towards compensation. That by no stretch of imagination undo the tragedy that has befallen the petitioner's family. Only by offering employment to the second son, the situation can be substantially remedied," the Court said.

Lastly, the Bench directed TANGEDCO to ensure that such fateful accidents do not occur in the future.

"Of course, there can never be any impregnable shield against bird hits or rodent interference. But TANGEDCO can undertake a comprehensive safety audit. Bushes underneath the electric poles and transmission lines can be cleared. They can announce cash prizes for young scientists to come out with ideas as to how the feeder can trip automatically, once line is snapped," the Court suggested.

Case Title: G. Sendhattikalaipandian v. Inspector of Police & Anr.

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