Row over power pole liability

Row over power pole liability

A class-action lawyer says the State Government may have a case to answer for the Parkerville bushfire because of rules that make it responsible for power equipment on private property up to the meter.

Kevin Banks-Smith said photographs from the property showing a meter on the fallen power pole that started the blaze raised significant doubts about claims the landholder could be found to be at fault.

EnergySafety guidelines issued to private landowners say they are responsible for power equipment such as poles and wires "after the meter".

Acting as a consultant to law firm Slater & Gordon, Mr Banks-Smith said the wording of the guidelines implied landholders were not responsible for power poles which had meters attached, but only poles after that point.

By extension, he said, this might impose a duty on some other arm of the government, or on State-owned power utility Western Power, to maintain those poles that do support the meter.

Western Power declined to comment, saying the Parkerville fire was under investigation and it would be inappropriate to respond.

The question of responsibility for poles with meters on them could have significant implications for the Government.

If it were found Western Power was responsible, the Government could be liable for damages of millions of dollars stemming from the Parkerville inferno.

The fire destroyed 56 homes after a wooden power pole on the property of an 82-year-old woman collapsed, damaging wires leading out of the meter box and sending sparks to the ground.

"It seems to be agreed that the pole with the meter fell over and caused the fire," Mr Banks-Smith said.

"The question the court would be interested in is whose job was it to . . . take reasonable care to ensure that didn't happen by ensuring the pole was kept in good condition, or replaced if it was not serviceable.

"At this stage what we're left with is we don't think it was the land owner's job based on what they've been told by the Government in the published guidance about their obligations over power poles on their land.

"Who, if anyone, takes responsibility as a matter of course for the inspection, condition of those poles with the meters on them is a very important question."

Energy Minister Mike Nahan maintained that in the case of Parkerville, the landowner was responsible but said he would seek to have the issue clarified.

"EnergySafety has already made it clear that the power pole that started the fire was the responsibility of a private landholder and it is currently undertaking an investigation of the incident," Dr Nahan said.

"However, the State Government will seek further clarity about the rights and responsibilities of individuals as part of its review of privately owned poles and electrical connections."

One industry insider, who declined to be named, noted EnergySafety's guidelines were not a legal document and would provide a weak basis for a class action.

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