Surge appliance damage (D/98/91)

Case number: D/98/91
Date of Decision: 17 December 1998
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

The customer contacted EIOV and stated that a tree branch had fallen across the power lines outside his premises, causing an interruption to supply. Upon restoration of supply, his television and VCR, which had previously been functioning, were found to be no longer operational. He also stated that the power lines had fallen on his car, causing damage to the panel work. He had contacted his electricity company seeking recompense for the damage to his car and appliances and had been advised that he should contact the person responsible for the tree, in this case his local municipal council.

The customer stated that he had contacted his local council and been advised that he should direct any claims to his electricity company. He contacted his electricity company again and was informed that the company did nor accept liability for the damage, and that he did not qualify for the company's surge insurance scheme as he had not paid all of his bills by the due date. The customer stated that he believed his payment record should not have any relation to the company's liability for damage to his property.

The customer provided repair advice which indicated that the damage to the customer's appliances was of such a magnitude that repair was not economically viable. The customer also provided information relating to the cost of replacement of the damaged appliances. This advice was verified independently by EIOV. The customer's car was repaired, and the customer paid an excess of $400.00 to his insurer.

EIOV opened an investigation and received from the company reports relating to the event at the customer's premises. The company reports indicated that the tree in question had been inspected by a company representative and categorised as outside the regrowth space and not requiring any action. The company was not able to verify the qualifications and experience of the person who had undertaken the survey.

EIOV also received advice from an independent arboriculturalist, regarding the tree in question, and information from the local council relating to the tree maintenance procedures followed by the council. The arboriculturalist report indicated that the tree involved in the event was a species prone to dropping healthy branches, and it could thus have been expected that branches would fall unexpectedly.

The company maintained that any liability for damage caused when the tree branch fell across the power lines should be borne by the person responsible for the tree, the local council.

Following the matter being unable to be resolved via negotiation, the parties sought the binding decision of the Ombudsman to resolve the matter.

The Ombudsman considered relevant law, codes and regulations.

The Ombudsman noted that it was foreseeable that branches from the Mahogany Gum could drop at any time, and that a more comprehensive pruning programme should have been instigated in order to remove the possibility of branches overhanging the high voltage line. The Ombudsman also noted that the company had a responsibility to alert the "responsible person" to prospective problem areas, and had the power to act to rectify any prospective problem areas, neither of which actions was undertaken in this case.

The Ombudsman determined that the company pay to the customer $2,044 in full and final settlement of the matter. This sum comprised the cost of replacement of the damaged appliances and the $400 excess paid by the customer to his insurer.