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DIY damages

28/05/2012

On Black Saturday (7 February 7, 2009), a power line fell and ignited stubble. The resulting conflagration destroyed 13 houses, 2 commercial premises, 31 farm sheds, 47 outbuildings, numerous stockyards, 160km of fencing, 54 sheep, 226 other head of stock, bales of fodder, crops, pastures, trees, machinery and equipment. The failure was the result of careless line maintenance schedules and methods adopted by Powercor. A number of affected landholders brought a class action against Powercor.

One of the affected farmers, Mr Thomas, had repaired his own damaged property with assistance from volunteers. He won judgement at first instance for the full commercial cost as if contractors had done the work. Powercor appealed the decision on the basis of precedents that suggest that Mr Thomas was not entitled to be recompensed for his own labour or that of volunteers.

The Appeal Court said he should be compensated for the probable commercial cost of repair or reinstatement. It’s irrelevant whether the repairs were done by his own labour or by others voluntarily or by others charging commercial rates. The cost of repair should be measured at commercial rates. However, Mr Thomas was not entitled to any further amount for his own administration and inconvenience. The Appeal Court agreed that: “It would be unjust and unreasonable to reduce damages on account of benefits received by the plaintiff resulting from benevolence. Benefits of this kind spring from a desire to assist the plaintiff, not from any wish to relieve against the tortfeasor’s liability.”

Here are the full reasons for judgement In Powercor Australia Ltd v Thomas.

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