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Mere charge of negligence can’t warrant payout in accidental death cases: Bombay High Court

by Bhavya DubeyFebruary 3, 2018

Observing that a mere allegation of negligence could not warrant payment of compensation in cases of accidental death, the Bombay High Court rejected a plea filed by a city resident seeking compensation from Reliance Infrastructure for the death of her son due to electrocution. A bench of justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre recently dismissed the writ petition filed by a Chembur resident.

The woman alleged that in 2010 her 17-year-old son died in an accident caused by the negligence of Reliance Infrastructure’s power distribution company–Bombay Suburban Electricity Supplier–now known as Reliance Energy.The bench said a plea seeking payment of compensation for the death of a person by electrocution could be maintainable only if the petitioner succeeded in producing “undisputed facts” that clearly revealed an instance of negligence. The petitioner, Noorja Khan, alleged that few days before the accident that occurred in June 2010, Reliance Energy had been laying underground cables.

“On the day of the accident, Saddam (her son) came in contact with a naked electric wire connected to an electric power distribution box that had been left open. Since it had been raining earlier that day, a lot of water had collected around the box,” said the petitioner’s lawyer E A Sasi.

“Saddam got an electric shock and because of its impact, he was thrown into the pool of water that had collected there. Another piece of live wire had been thrown into the water by someone and as a result, Saddam died of electrocution,” the lawyer said.

Reliance Infrastructure, however, denied all charges of negligence and instead said that there existed rampant illegal power theft by local residents near the spot where the accident took place. It said it was likely that some resident tried to secure power supply from the box to his or her establishment illegally and the same person left the box open and threw the naked wire into the water.

The bench took note of Reliance’s submission and held that it could not dismiss the argument that the accident had been caused due to the actions of a third party.

“Can the respondent (Reliance Infrastructure) be held liable if the death was due to the act of a third party. You can’t merely allege that the respondent was negligent and expect that compensation will be awarded. The respondent has expressly denied that it compromised with the public’s safety,” the bench said.

“Compensation is awarded in cases of electrocution only if the accident is not caused by the victim’s own fault. However, in cases like these, where there is a dispute and no admission of liability, then the allegation of negligence and carelessness will have to be established and proved by the petitioner,” the bench said while dismissing the petition.

It, however, granted the petitioner the liberty to re-approach the court through a civil suit to try and establish the cause of the death and negligence.

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