Every year, a number of South Africans are seriously injured or killed as a result of exposure to electricity.
Sometimes, these incidents are due to another party’s negligence, or should reasonably have been prevented by a responsible party. In these cases, victims may have personal injury claims for electric shock injuries or electrocution.
Claims for electric shock injuries in South Africa
In 2013, an investment consultant in Johannesburg was cycling when he came into contact with a low-hanging, live power line. He suffered serious burns.
As the owner and operator of the power line, Eskom was initially found 100% liable for the incident and for the man’s injuries. A subsequent appeal by Eskom was upheld, largely on the argument that the cyclist wasn’t in the role of an Eskom consumer at the time of the incident.
In an earlier case, a grade 6 boy from Blue Downs, Cape Town climbed an electric pylon. There was no warning sign or barricade. He received an electrical shock and was thrown, suffering both burn and fall injuries.
In a settlement, Eskom paid the boy R2.8 million in damages.
More recently, in 2018, a teacher sustained serious injuries after coming into contact with a live wire dangling from an overhead power line. He pursued, but lost, a R35.6 million claim for damages against the Mpumalanga public works MEC.
Causes of electric shock injuries in South Africa
Outside work settings, people may be exposed to electrical hazards in a number of ways.
Faulty or defective electrical products and appliances can cause accidental electrocution.
Under South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act, product manufacturers, suppliers and retailers may all have liability for injuries caused by faulty or unsafe appliances.
Product liability claims may include claims for electric shock injuries.
Operators and installers of electrical cabling are required to ensure that the public can’t reasonably be exposed to live electrical current.
Nonetheless, incidents do occur of exposed cabling and low-hanging power lines in public areas.
Where high voltage is present, a lack of barriers and warning signage can also lead to accidental electric shock.
Electricity and cable theft
In some parts of South Africa, cable theft is rife. It’s also common for South Africans to tamper with electrical boxes and installations, in an attempt to access electricity for free.
These activities put people at high risk of electric shock.
Electricity and cable thieves are unlikely to have claims because their actions are unlawful and taken despite awareness of the potential hazards.
Misuse of electrical equipment
Disclaimers that accompany equipment and appliances usually cover injuries sustained through misuse.
However, the onus is on manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that reasonable measures are in place to ensure products are safe for consumers.
For example, if a certain misuse of a product could readily be anticipated and it poses a serious hazard, the manufacturer might be held liable for personal injuries that occur.
Also, if incorrect operating instructions result in electric shock injury, there may be grounds for a personal injury claim.
In South Africa, property owners can be held liable if someone is injured by their electric fencing.
For example, this applies if visible warning signs are absent or if the fencing is installed below a required minimum height.
Personal injury claims for electric shock injuries
When electric shock injuries can be attributed to negligence, oversight or an avoidable fault in the manufacturing of a product, there may be grounds for personal injury claims.
For instance, claims for electric shock injuries may be made against manufacturers of electrical appliances, owners of electrical installations or electricity operators or suppliers, such as Eskom.
Preparing for a claim after an electric shock injury
For your claim to be successful, you need to be able to prove that the injury was caused by negligence. In the unfortunate event of an electric shock injury, the following steps must be taken to record the incident:
- Take photos of the location of the accident paying close attention to the exact point where you came into contact with electricity.
- Take photos of the injuries you sustained.
- Record witness statements and contact details in case they are needed to build a case.
- Write a statement of the accident and include medical records that support your claims.
- Consult a personal injury attorney to ensure your claim is viable and to get proper legal representation.
Claims with DSC Attorneys
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims of all types, including claims for electric shock injuries and electrocution.
Our attorneys and medico-legal team assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings to get you the compensation you deserve.