Supply damage to household appliance (C/97/999)

Case number: C/97/999
Date of Decision: 4 February 1998
Decision accepted by the customer: No

A customer contacted EIOV stating that an interruption to supply at her premises had damaged her answering machine. The customer purchased a new machine for $125.10 and made a claim to her electricity company. She also asked the company about its compliance with "tariffed performance standards" in regard to interruption to supply and low voltage. The company confirmed that an interruption to supply had occurred, but denied the customer's claim. The company stated they were unaware of any such standard applying to individual premises.

The customer asked EIOV for clarification regarding implied warranties under the Trade Practices Act 1974, relating to the quality of electricity supplied to customers.

EIOV advised the customer to seek repair advice to substantiate her claim. The customer provided repair advice which cost the customer $370 stating that she wanted the cost of the invoice to form part of her claim. The company responded by offering to meet the cost of the answering machine, but denying the cost of the repair advice on the basis that it was almost three times the cost of the machine. The customer rejected this offer.

EIOV, as part of its independent investigation, sought technical advice which concluded that transients or spikes may occur upon resumption of supply in interruption to supply events.

EIOV advised the customer that although it is normal EIOV practice to request repair advice, it was not anticipated that the customer would seek an opinion where the cost would be so high. The customer responded that she was requested to supply repair advice, that no caveats were applied to the request and she considered that it would often be the case that professional opinion would cost more than the cost of the good issue. EIOV legal advice was that a complainant is under a reasonable duty to minimise loss allegedly incurred, taking into account issues of balance proportion.

As this matter did not resolve through conciliation the Ombudsman determined the case. The Ombudsman found that is was likely the interruption to supply and voltage variation caused damage to the customer's answering machine and directed the company to pay the customer $125.10 to cover the cost of replacement. The Ombudsman found, however, that it was not reasonable for the customer to authorise a technical opinion which, in the view of the Ombudsman, she knew in advance would cost $370.

The Ombudsman directed the company to pay an additional amount of $70, taking into account that the customer had experienced at least three previous power disruptions in the months prior to the event in which her answering machine was damaged, bringing the total awarded to the customer to $195.10.