02/07/2021 - 15:16

Western Power negligent in Parkerville fire

02/07/2021 - 15:16

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State government-owned Western Power was negligent and is partly liable for the January 2014 Perth Hills bushfire, a Court of Appeal decision found today.

A substation in East Perth. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

State government-owned Western Power was negligent and is partly liable for the January 2014 Perth Hills bushfire, the Court of Appeal found today. 

The bushfire was sparked when a jarrah pole with a live cable fell and caused electrical arcing, igniting dry vegetation.

In a 2019 decision, the Supreme Court found Thiess, a contractor, to be 70 per cent responsible for the fire, and Norleen Campbell, the owner of the power pole, 30 per cent responsible.

But in a decision handed down today, the Court of Appeal found Western Power was 50 per cent liable, Thiess 35 per cent, and Mrs Campbell 15 per cent.

Justices John Buss, Graeme Murphy and Robert Mitchell found Western Power had a duty of reasonable care to minimise risk of injury or property damage from fire in connection with delivery of electricity through the network.

Western Power breached that duty of care by failing to have a system for undertaking the periodic inspection of wooden point of attachment poles owned by consumers and used to support live electrical apparatus forming part of Western Power's electricity distribution system,” the judgement said. 

“That breach of duty caused the loss and damage suffered by the plaintiffs as a consequence of the bushfire which was ignited by the collapsed … pole, owned by Mrs Campbell and used to support live electrical apparatus forming part of Western Power's electricity distribution system.”

While Western Power did not own the pole, it did own the cables carried by the pole, and was responsible for regular inspections.

All parties to the original case, except Western Power, appealed or cross-appealed the decision.

There were initially four actions by three plaintiff groups: the Herridge parties, IAG/Allianz parties, and RAC parties.

Law firm Slater & Gordon represented 189 bushfire victims and anticipated further compensation would be available for those victims.

“Unlike their NSW and Victorian counterparts, Western Power has long refused to accept responsibility for undertaking periodic safety inspections of these poles, and instead chose to argue that the responsibility to inspect the poles rested with private landowners,” Slater & Gordon practice group leader Rory Walsh said.

“There is estimated to be more than 100,000 uninspected poles across the network, the majority of which are wooden and situated in rural environments, although a precise number is unknown.”

Mr Walsh said neither Western Power nor the regulator knew the age of these power poles, condition, or safety risk. 

Western Power said it would consider the implications of the judgement.

“Further comment cannot be provided while this is underway,” the company said.

“We appreciate how difficult this time has been for the Parkerville community. 

“The majority of claims have now been paid and the Court of Appeal’s decision will not impede any further payments to claimants.”

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