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This article is authored by Nidhi Bajaj, of Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjab. The article presents an analysis of the Kerala High Court’s decision in K.S.E.B v. Suresh Kumar wherein the Kerala Electricity Board was held liable for injuries sustained by the plaintiff due to the negligence of the Board.

This article has been published by Shoronya Banerjee.

Introduction

Case nameKerala State Electricity Board v. Suresh Kumar
CitationAIR 1986 Ker 72
CourtKerala High Court
Date of judgmentNovember 6, 1985
PartiesAppellant: Kerala State Electricity BoardRespondent: Suresh Kumar
BenchJustice P B Menon, Justice K Sreedharan

Facts of the case

  • A suit was filed by the plaintiff against the defendant Board (Appellant in this appeal) seeking compensation for the injuries sustained by him.
  • The brief facts of the case as per the plaint are: 

On 8th May 1978, the minor plaintiff’s father was doing some agricultural operations in his plot. The minor plaintiff and his twin sister had brought coffee to their father. The minor plaintiff was returning from the plot through the paddy field when he came into contact with an 11 K.V. line electric wire and sustained serious injuries. On 6th May 1978, the workers of the defendant Board had cut the stay wire which supported the electric post holding the 11 K.V. line at that place, due to which the post had leaned down and the wire sagged to a height of about 1 metre from the ground. The defendant Board did not take any step to set right the line and the aforesaid accident occurred two days later. The minor plaintiff suffered severe shocks and burns. He was taken to St. Thomas Hospital and then on 10th May, he was admitted to the Medical College Hospital, Kottayam for further treatment, wherein he was treated as an in-patient till 4-7-1978. Even after that, he had to continue treatment. Due to the accident, the minor plaintiff lost one arm and ugly scars were left on his body. The accident affected his physical and mental capacities and deprived him of the chance of living a normal, active, useful, and happy life. His capacity to work like a normal person was permanently impaired and his chances of a happy married life were also reduced. An expenditure of over Rs. 2000 was incurred on his treatment by his parents. 

  • The plaintiff maintained that the accident was caused due to the misconduct and negligence of the defendant Board in maintaining the 11 K.V. line properly and not taking necessary precautions which they were legally bound to take. Therefore, the plaintiff demanded a compensation of Rs. 1,00.000/-in addition to Rs. 2.000/-spent by his father. 
  • In the written statement filed by the Board, it was contended that the incident took place at the time when an indefinite strike was going on by a section of employees of the Board. At that time, sabotages and incidents of putting down electric lines were frequent in the State. The public was fully aware of the situation and in such circumstances, the plaintiff should not have touched the sagging electric wire. The Board maintained that the incident occurred due to the plaintiff’s own negligence and not due to the negligence of the Board. 

Decision of the Trial Court

The Trial Court decreed the suit of the plaintiff and the defendant Board was ordered to pay a sum of Rs. 64,900/- with interest at 6% per annum from the date of suit. The defendant was also ordered to pay the entire court-fee payable to the plaintiff. The defendant was ordered to deposit the amount decreed within 3 months from the date of this decree. The Court also gave the following directions—

  1. Out of the amount deposited by the defendant Board, a sum of Rs. 1,700/- will be paid to the next friend of the minor plaintiff.
  2. The balance amount of Rs. 63.200/- will be deposited in a nationalised bank for a period of 7 years. Till the fixed deposit matures the plaintiff will be entitled only to receive interest accrued due from time to time if he so desires. 
  3. The balance amount will be provided to the plaintiff after he attains the age of majority.

The present appeal was filed before the Kerala High Court by the Kerala State Electricity Board against the decision of the Trial Court.

Issues

  1. Whether the sagging of the 11 K. V. line was due to negligence of the Kerala State Electricity Board?
  2. Whether the defendant is liable to pay damages to the plaintiff? If yes, what is the amount that is due to the plaintiff by way of damages?

Contentions of the parties

  • In its written statement, the Board admitted that the plaintiff sustained burns due to coming into contact with live electric wires. However, it was contended that given the situation of strike and the general public awareness regarding the frequent sabotages in the state, the plaintiff should have been more careful. The sagging of the wire was not due to the negligence of the Board but due to the sabotage which was clearly beyond the control of the Board. Also, no member of the public is ever allowed to touch the Board’s electric system, especially when the wire was hanging so low. Hence, it was due to the plaintiff’s own negligence that the incident occurred. 
  • It was contended that the allegation that the stay wire was cut 2 days prior to the incident is not correct. The Board was alert in the maintenance of the generation, transmission, and distribution lines, and the mischief might have been done only shortly before the incident. 
  • It was submitted that the Board came to know about the sabotage on the morning of 9th May 1978, and thereafter immediate steps were taken by the Board for rectification.
  • The Board contended that in spite of more than ordinary diligence on the part of the officials of the Board the mischief could not be detected because there was nothing wrong in the circuit of current on account of the sabotage. Therefore, there was no negligence on part of the Board and the Board cannot be held liable for the plaintiff’s own negligence. 
  • The Board contended that it is not correct that the plaintiff has become invalid. However, it was admitted that one arm of the plaintiff had to be amputated. 
  • It was submitted that even though the Board was not bound to pay compensation legally, the action was taken to pay ex gratia compensation to the plaintiff on compassionate grounds. But the compensation as claimed by the plaintiff is very high and exaggerated.  

Decision of the Kerala High Court

Issue no. 1

  • The Court decided the first issue against the appellant Board and held that the sagging of the 11 K.V. line was due to negligence on the part of the Kerala State Electricity Board and hence it was liable to pay damages to the plaintiff.
  • The Court took into account the evidence of the Assistant Executive Engineer who swore that the sabotage was caused by the employees of the Board or their supporters. Also, a resident of the locality has testified that the 11 K.V. electric line passing through the paddy field was sagging to a height of about 1 metre from the ground from 6th May 1978.
  • The Court rejected the argument put forth by the Board that as the incident was caused due to the activities of the employees on strike, the Board was not liable for any damages. 
  • The Court held that as per the Electricity Rules, 1956, the Board is under a duty to properly maintain the electrical installations and lines carrying the electrical energy. It was pointed out by the Court that Rule 77(3) of the said rules specifically imposes a duty on the Board to see that the 11 K.V. overhead lines are held at a height of not less than 15 ft. above the ground. It was held that if the line is shown to be sagging to a height of up to three feet above the ground, then it prima facie, leads to an inference of negligence on the part of the Board. 
  • There was evidence that the sabotage that caused the sagging was committed by the employees of the Board itself and whether or not they were on strike, the Board cannot be exonerated from its statutory duties under the Electricity Supply Act, 1948 and the Electricity Rules, 1956. Also, the incident occurred when the plaintiff was going along the bund in the paddy field. The court held that it is common knowledge that people will be passing through the bund and hence, it was the duty of the Board to ensure that the electric lines are maintained at sufficient height that the people don’t come into contact with live wires.
  • Also, the argument that the plaintiff should not have touched the wire and that the incident occurred due to his own negligence was rejected by the Court.

Issue no. 2

  • The Court held that the appellant Board was liable to pay damages to the plaintiff. The Court confirmed the order of payment of a sum of Rs. 1700 to the minor plaintiff’s father for expenses incurred by him for treating the injured. 
  • A sum of Rs. 20.000/ – has been awarded to the plaintiff on account of pain and suffering. The court held that the injured person is entitled to general damage on account of pain and suffering. The court referred to the case of In Madhya Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, Bairagarh, Bhopal v. Sudhakar(1977), wherein a sum of Rs. 20,000 was awarded as general damages to a boy aged 4 years who sustained multiple fractures with infection of his wound. 
  • While considering the pain and suffering experienced by the plaintiff, the Court held that the amount of Rs. 20,000/- awarded by the lower court is not excessive.
  • Next, the court considered the amount of Rs. 43,200 that was awarded on account of the future pecuniary loss. The Court observed that to arrive at the said amount, the learned judge assumed that the injured can reasonably expect to get a job earning Rs. 600/- per month and a multiple of 15 would have come to Rs. 1,08,000. However, considering various factors and making deductions on account of a lump-sum payment, the Subordinate judge awarded Rs. 43,200 i.e. 40% of the said sum. The court confirmed the order of the trial court and held that the compensation awarded is not so high as to call for interference by this court.

Hence, the appeal was dismissed with costs. 

Other observations

The Court expressed its displeasure at the callous attitude of the Kerala Electricity Board in that the Board did not take sufficient care and caution against the possible sabotage by its employees. The court criticised the Board for its neglect of statutory duties and its obligation to ensure public safety. The Court observed that it is pertinent that the employees guilty of sabotage don’t escape punishment and remarked that the fact that no attempt has been made to arrest the culprits is distressful.  

Conclusion

Thus, in the case at hand, the Kerala High Court awarded compensation including general damages to the plaintiff who suffered serious injuries due to the negligence of the electricity board. It is pertinent to refer to the following para from ‘McGregor on Damages’(14th Edn., Para 1211), wherein it is stated that “Pain and suffering are the first of the two main heads of non-pecuniary loss. Both past and prospective pain and suffering are covered, although the past loss is not claimed as special damage in the pleadings as it is not quantifiable with exactitude; past and prospective loss are therefore claimed together as general damage”. 

References


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