Many people who pursue public liability claims do so because they have suffered serious injuries due to someone else’s negligence. However, individuals and organisations can also file a claim for damages to property.
Two mining services firms recently demanded compensation after a fire destroyed a multi-million-dollar excavator, which resulted in significant costs. One of the businesses, the first plaintiff, had loaned the expensive piece of equipment to the other company – the second plaintiff.
The enterprises decided to sue a contractor firm because they believed an employee of the organisation failed to take adequate care in his duties and had caused the fire. Both the second plaintiff and the defendant were working at the same coal mine when the accident happened.
According to the plaintiffs, they were owed more than $10 million in damages to cover the costs of tackling the fire, replacing the equipment and various other operational expenses incurred because of the blaze.
However, in order to win the case, they had to prove that the defendant’s employee – a boilermaker – owed them a duty of care and he breached this obligation due to negligence. A second defendant, the father and employer of a man who helped the boilermaker perform the tasks that led to the fire, also faced the claim.
Public liability claim factors
The fire occurred after the defendants used a technique called electric arc air gouging to remove a damaged accelerator bracket from the excavator. A welder is used to heat metal to above its melting point, after which a concentrated stream of air is directed through the tool to cut the metal.
This process often creates sparks that, the plaintiffs argued, set alight nearby flammable materials. One of the key issues in the case was whether or not the fire could be traced back to the gouging procedures.
In making his decision, Justice Robert McDougall noted that expert evidence failed to show that the fire originated from the defendants’ work, so it wasn’t possible to rule in favour of the plaintiffs.
Justice McDougall added that no breach of duty had occurred. As such, the plaintiffs were unable to recover any damages for the fire and must also pay the defendants’ costs.
While the public liability claim was ultimately unsuccessful, the case highlights the variety of circumstances in which people and organisations can pursue damages.
If you or your property has suffered harm due to negligence, please get in touch with expert lawyers in NSW to see whether or not you’re eligible for compensation.