Country Energy liable for high-voltage shock to truck driver

By: Brad Gardner


Truckie receives $656,542 in compensation for injuries suffered after coming into contact with a power line.

 

An owner-driver severely injured after being shocked by a high-voltage power line has received more than $650,000 in compensation.

Livestock transporter Howard Courts was unloading sheep from his B-double at a rural property in far north-western NSW when he stood up in the A-trailer and came into contact with the uninsulated power line.

Electricity passed through his body and out the toes of his left foot, knocking him unconscious and subsequently forcing doctors to amputate his leg.

The Supreme Court of New South Wales has held the installer of the power line, Country Energy, and the owner of the property where the incident occurred, Phillip Ridge, liable for Courts’ injuries.

The power line had a ground clearance of 5.65m, despite Country Energy’s guidelines requiring it to be 6m from the ground.

"I find…that the accident would not have happened if the power line had had a ground clearance at the relevant location of 6m, that Country Energy’s negligence was the cause of the accident," justice Christine Adamson says.

Country Energy has been ordered to pay Courts $437,695, while Ridge is liable for $218,847.

Ridge was not at the property at the time of the incident, but Adamson says he still owed a duty of care to Courts.

"The duty required him to take reasonable care not to expose Mr Courts to an unreasonable risk of injury," she says.

Adamson says Ridge should have instructed his station manager, who was on the property at the time of the incident, to inform Courts not to unload the sheep at a location where any part of the truck would be under the power line.

Adamson assessed total damages at more than $1 million but deducted the amount for contributory negligence.

She says Courts knew or should have known there was a power line above his vehicle when he decided to park and unload the sheep.

Courts parked his truck under the power line so he could unload the animals into the property’s yards near the woolshed.

"I accept that his reasons for parking there was altruistic since he considered that it would be convenient for Mr Ridge to have the sheep in the yards near the woolshed when he came to inspect them," Adamson says.

"But the plaintiff had an obligation to look after his own safety and he failed to take reasonable care to do so. I find that he was contributorily negligent by parking his truck under the power line."

Courts was attempting to remove a sheep that had backed itself into a corner of the A-trailer when the incident occurred. He stepped over the bar that divided the top deck of the trailer to get the animal.

"The plaintiff forgot the power line was there when he went to the A-trailer to fetch the sheep because he was focussed on the job," Adamson says. 

She says the electrical shock caused Courts "excruciating pain". He had two toes amputated and had to undergo debridements and skin grafts. His left leg was amputated one year after the accident.

"The injuries sustained in the incident were traumatic, shocking, painful and ultimately debilitating," Adamson says.

"The plaintiff has suffered very considerable pain and trauma arising from the incident. He has undergone several operations, of which the most significant was the below-knee amputation of his left leg…He has lost and suffered so much."

Courts underwent rehabilitation and managed to resume work as a truck driver, but he struggles to climb in and out of the cabin and carry out maintenance on his prime mover and trailer.

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