The Electricity Regulation Act

15th March 2019 By: Terry Mackenzie-hoy

Concerning the liability of a licensee for damage or injury, Section 26 of the Electricity Regulation Act states: “In any civil proceedings against a licensee arising out of damage or injury caused by induction or electrolysis or in any other manner by means of electricity generated, transmitted or distributed by a licensee, such damage or injury is deemed to have been caused by the negligence of the licensee, unless there is credible evidence to the contrary.”

The ‘licencee’ referred to in the Act is State-owned electricity utility Eskom or a municipality that is licensed to sell electricity to consumers in South Africa.

This is a wonderful piece of legislation. One can immediately see that no electrical engineer was involved in the drafting of this text, since the phrase ‘injury caused by induction or electrolysis’ can only have been drafted by a lulu who has no idea what these terms mean. A person injured by ‘induction’ is what, actually? Somebody who came too close to a welding machine?

From time to time, I have been involved in cases where a person has or persons have had an accidental contact with an electrical supply and the lawyers regard this clause as meaning a person who was injured by an electric shock. It is a wonderful clause, in a way, since all you have to do is to fake a fire caused by a power line that burns down your grazing or buildings and then Eskom or the municipality has the task of proving that it was not a fault with their power line.

I suggest that you burn down the power line poles so that the task of finding out who did what becomes difficult. The same applies to physical injuries. If you happen to be in a mood to steal the earth wires from a miniature substation or the shield wire from a power line and you get an electrical shock, lucky you! You can now claim money for pain, suffering, medical treatment, loss of income and permanent disability, and Eskom or the municipality has to prove that you were not behaving in a reckless manner and it was all your fault.

It is a bit like getting injured while robbing a bank and the bank has to pay you for your injuries. In my experience and investigations, the extent to which people will blatantly lie to try to get a payout is astonishing. In one case, a child was injured when, according to the tale of his mother, he kicked a ball into a substation yard, where it landed between the bushings of a transformer. The mother claimed that the child had climbed onto the transformer and found the ball stuck between the bushings. He then elicited help from his brother. This was why the child fell to the ground when the brother was using the bolt cutters to cut away the live conductors to free the ball. Right. Prove them wrong.

There was the farmer who claimed that his boathouse and boat were burnt out by a spark that leapt from a power line onto a pole, which set the pole on fire and then the veld. Very fortunately, he had bought a new boat the week before. His mistake was to claim from the insurer and Eskom. He told a different tale to each – he told Eskom the electrical tale and the insurer a story that involved the engine of the boat producing a spark. Investigation could not find any burnt-out engine but he explained that the engine had been saved from destruction by a resourceful labourer. No, he did not get away with it and was charged with criminal fraud. But some advice: if you do get a shock from an electrical system, find a lawyer and make a claim. Easy money, if you can get it.