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Tenancy matters
    •  Injury
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            >  Death by electrocution



Death by electrocution 

A self-employed handyman was fatally electrocuted while repairing the leaking roof of a residential rental property owned by the first defendant.

There were no witnesses to the actual events. It was agreed that the handyman was electrocuted while on the roof because a live, active electrical connection had remained connected to a redundant solar hot water system and he had somehow come into contact with it while carrying out his work on the roof.

In about 1997 the first defendant, the owner, purchased the property and rented it out to tenants. The premises had been fitted with a roof mounted solar hot water system which incorporated a hot water storage unit.

In April 1999 there was a hailstorm during which one of the two glass solar panels on the roof of the premises was damaged. After the hailstorm the owner inspected the damage to the roof in connection with his insurance claim. (The plaintiff asserted that at the time of that inspection, the owner should have known the solar hot water system was partially powered by electricity. The second defendant, a plumber, agreed.)

In November 2001 the owner’s agents received a complaint from tenants regarding problematic operation of the solar hot water system. (Neither the agents or those tenants described the precise nature of the problem. The owner said his tenants complained the system had been running out of hot water.)

In November 2001 a plumber, was contracted to decommission the water connections of the redundant solar hot water system and replace it with a gas hot water system.

The plaintiff, the de facto partner of the handyman, claimed the handyman’s death was due to the negligence of the property owner and the plumber. Both defendants denied liability and alleged there was contributory negligence on the part of the handyman. The defendants also made claims against each other.

The Court found that at the time of the handyman’s death, a live and active electricity supply remained connected to the redundant solar hot water system after the installation of a gas hot water system. The owner was aware, and ought to have been aware, that this was the case. The owner therefore owed a duty to ensure the electricity supply was disconnected from the redundant system. The plumber also owed a duty to advise the owner of the need to disconnect the electricity supply to the redundant system.

The Court also found that the electrocution death of the handyman was reasonably foreseeable to both the owner and the plumber. As such, both the owner and the plumber owed a duty of care to the deceased and breached their respective duties of care.

The defendants failed to show that the handyman had contributed to his death by his own negligence. The Court found the handyman’s death was 20% attributable to the fault of the owner and 80% attributable to the fault of the plumber. The plaintiff was awarded damages agreed in the sum of $350,000.

Giovenco v Dick [2010] NSWDC 4