Homeowners Liable For Teenage Guest Electocuting Himself By Raising Pole To a Powerline
Reasons for judgement were published this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, dealing with liability following an unfortunate¬†incident¬†of self-electrocution.
In this week’s case (Bendak v. Bohnet) the 13 year old plaintiff was visiting his friend’s home. ¬†Before going out to play his friend’s mom directed that her son finish a chore dealing with the property’s irrigation pipes. ¬†The Plaintiff tagged along helping his friend to complete the chores. ¬†While¬†attending to¬†the pipes they realized ¬†a rodent may have been caught in one of the pipes. ¬†The boys stood the pipe up which measured some 40 feet in¬†length. ¬†It came into contact with overhead powerlines badly¬†electrocuting¬†the Plaintiff.
The Plaintiff sued the home owners¬†arguing¬†they were liable for the¬†incident¬†pursuant¬†to BC’s Occupier’s Liability Act. ¬†Madam Justice Schultes agreed and in finding the¬†homeowners¬†negligent provided the following reasons:
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†What I consider to be the critical factors, however, are the particular circumstances under which Tanner was injured, and not the general practice as applicable to irrigation under power lines in this area.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Firstly, one must consider the physical setting. Accepting that the usual and proper manner of moving irrigation pipes is horizontally carrying them, and that there is never any reason to stand it vertically during that process, this was still an area fraught with potential peril. Metal pipes of a sufficient length to touch the high voltage line if stood up vertically were strewn about. All that prevented a potentially fatal contact between them were whatever best practices may have been inculcated in Connor in his instructions about moving irrigation pipes, which did not include specific training about this risk. In other words, this was a potentially perilous zone, awaiting only the easily achievable, if completely unnecessary, action of standing up an irrigation pipe to be taken for serious harm to occur.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Second, one must consider the characteristics of those who were allowed to go into this dangerous physical setting. Although they had both turned 13, these were Grade 7 boys — children by any reasonable description — whose propensity for using objects in every way other than that which they are intended is an intrinsic attribute of childhood. I do not think it is actually necessary to go so far as to find the Bohnets ought to have foreseen that the boys would gopher hunt by tipping up a pipe, although that is certainly within the reasonable range of activities that they might get up to. It is, rather, that with a highly dangerous power source 40 feet or less above them, with a means of making contact ready at hand, the Bohnets depended only on Connor’s remaining within the four corners of the chore itself to keep him and Tanner safe, despite the self‚ÄĎevident immaturity and unpredictability that are attributes of children of that age.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†I think that represents a real risk, one that a reasonable person would regard as anything but farfetched. It is an example of a possibility of serious harm, one that would occur to the mind of a reasonable person. Its relative frequency as an accident in commercial agriculture does not speak to the dangers posed by the activity being carried out by children. The specialized danger to children inherent in this situation means lack of attention by Mr.¬†Bohnet to the Workers’ Compensation poster, directed to him in his capacity as an employer, is not particularly significant either.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†My conclusion is that unsupervised children left in possession of objects capable of inflicting serious harm on themselves if they engage in quite typical childish behaviour should be seen by any reasonable person as a significant risk of harm. Simply, these boys were put in a situation in which their safety depended entirely on Connor doing only that which he had been entrusted and told to do, and not behaving as children.