Electrocution Injury Compensation

Electrocution Injury Compensation

On average, accidental electrocution is thought to cause around 20 fatalities in Australia each year. The highest proportion of electrocution injuries is suffered by males and those between the ages of 30 and 39. Five to ten deaths and over 100 severe electricity related injuries are caused by lightning each year and almost two thirds of electrocutions involving overhead powerlines occur at work.

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Electrocuted

What is an electrical injury?

Electrocution or electrical injury occurs when generated electrical current is allowed to pass through the body. It can cause a variety of injuries including: skin burns, internal organ damage, soft tissue damage, cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory arrest. Coming into contact with electrical current may result in a minor “shock” or it may result in life threatening complications depending on the voltage of electricity that enters the body.

Symptoms of electrocution or electric shock

When a person experiences electrocution or an electric shock they may suffer from:

  • Burns: particularly at entrance and exit points of the electrical current;
  • Unconsciousness;
  • Difficulty or cessation of breathing;
  • Weak or erratic pulse;
  • Cardiac arrest;
  • Chest pain;
  • Blunt trauma (including spinal injuries) from being thrown clear of the source by muscular contractions; and
  • Visible body deformities.

Common causes of electrocution and electrical injuries

Electrocution or electric shock injuries commonly arise from:

  • Overhead power lines: Power lines carry extremely high voltages and making contact with them either directly or with a metal or highly conductive object can cause electricity to pass through the object and into any person touching it.
  • Work accidents: Tradespeople and construction workers are commonly required to work around underground or overhead power lines with trucks, cranes, excavation machines, ladders and other conductive tools, and around electrical wires and circuits in buildings. Electricians and engineers must construct and repair electrical wiring and circuitry which carries a high risk of electrocution injury.
  • Electrical appliances: Exposed electrical wires, water on electrical appliances, cutting live cables, old wiring or faulty appliances can all result in electrocution or electric shock injuries.
  • Direct contact with electrical wires: Directly contacting live wires can result in electrocution.
  • Lightning strikes: Being struck by lightning or holding onto something conductive that is struck by lightning can lead to electrocution, external and internal burns, paralysis, seizures, loss of consciousness, loss of hearing, impaired eyesight and even cardiac arrest.
  • Arcing or arc flashing: Where electric current is able to jump from one conductor to another through the air, it creates a visible arc of high current and high temperature which poses an extremely high risk of electrocution and burn injuries.
Electocuted at work

Jobs at higher risk for electrical injuries include: Electricians, trades people, construction workers, firefighters and tree loppers.

Electrocution - can I claim compensation?

You may be able to claim compensation for an electrocution injury if it resulted from someone else’s negligence or carelessness. Negligence may arise in a variety of settings.

I was electrocuted at work - can I claim compensation?

If you are electrocuted at work, you may be able to claim workers compensation from your employer. Employers must provide proper and adequate means for employees to carry out their work. This includes:

  • providing safe systems of work;
  • maintaining safe machinery and equipment;
  • maintaining a safe workplace; and
  • providing employees with adequate facilities, training, supervision and instruction.

If you are injured because your employer neglects to provide safe systems of work, equipment or a safe environment, you may be able to sue for personal injury compensation. This includes injuries incurred over a long period of time, late onset injuries, and aggravations of pre-existing injuries.

Note: Weekly WorkCover payments operate under a separate ‘no fault’ scheme, meaning that you can receive weekly payments to cover lost income even if your injury was not because of your employer’s negligence.
Examples:  Jeff sustains burns to 20% of his body as a result of being electrocuted at work. At the time of the accident Jeff was performing a connection of a high voltage switch and was not aware that a co-worker had re-connected it to power before he had finished. Jeff’s employer arranged for numerous teams to work on various maintenance tasks simultaneously but failed to institute communication protocols and safety checks to reduce safety risks. Jeff can claim compensation from his employer for his personal injuries. 
Rick sustains a serious electrical shock injury at work while using an electric drill. Rick’s employer provides tagged and tested power tools for him to use, but he decides instead to use his own drill which is 10 years old and has never been tested in accordance with Australian requirements. Rick would not be able to claim compensation for his injuries as they were due to his own negligence. However, he could apply for Workers Compensation payments while he is off work.

Professions at risk for electrical injuries  

Jobs at higher risk for electrical injuries include: Electricians, trades people, construction workers, firefighters and tree loppers.

See also: WorkCover Claims

I was electrocuted on someone else’s property - can I claim compensation?

Occupiers (including owners of private property and public authorities), have a duty of care toward people coming onto their land. They must take reasonable care to make sure entrants are not exposed to risks that are likely to cause injury. This means if there is something that is potentially dangerous on their property they must rectify it or warn people of the danger.

Common scenarios include someone slipping on a floor surface surface or tripping over an unexpected obstacle on the ground, falling into an unmarked hole in the pavement, or being hit by falling debris from a building site.  

Examples: Jeff is electrocuted while staying in a hotel when he flicks on a toaster which has an electrical fault. There is no safety switch installed in the building. Jeff is able to claim compensation for his injuries because the hotel has negligently failed to ensure its electrical systems are safe for its guests. 
Rachel is sheltering from a storm under a tree in council parkland, when a lightning strike hits the tree she is touching and causes burns to her hand and arm. Rachel has no grounds to claim compensation since there is nothing the council could have done to prevent the injury.

Potential long-term impacts of electrocution injuries

Extreme electrocutions are often fatal, and survivors may be left in a vegetative state requiring permanent full care. Even less severe electrical shocks may cause long-term physical, neurologic and psychological symptoms. Electric shock victims may suffer from muscular pain and discomfort, fatigue, problems with peripheral nerve conduction and sensation, headaches and balance and co-ordination issues. Many who suffer from electrical injuries have difficulty returning to work.

Burns caused by electrocution often require lengthy hospital stays of weeks or months. Surgery and other intensive medical treatment may be required. The healing process is often slow and painful. The psychological impact of any visible disfiguration, particularly due to scaring on the hands or face can also be significant.

I was electrocuted - what can I claim for?

General damages

General damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you have experienced as well as any permanent loss of enjoyment of life as a result of your electrical injury. They are calculated by reference to the ISV Scale which rates the seriousness of any injury between 1 and 100 and accords a monetary value range to that rating.

For example an extreme electrocution resulting in the person being left in a vegetative state may be rated from 71 to 100 corresponding to a monetary range of $215,160 to $349,400 whereas a minor electric shock injury may only be attract an ISV of between 0 to 5 with a monetary range of $0 to $6,950 depending on the extent of any permanent damage.

Medical costs

To treat and diagnose the extent of an electrocution injury you may need to consult your general practitioner, consult a specialist, obtain scans, take pain medications use special medical apparatus such as a wheelchair. The expenses you incur to obtain medical treatment including costs of consultations, diagnostic scans, travel costs, medication and medical equipment may be claimed as compensation. You can also claim for medical costs you will incur in the future as a result of your injury.

Hospital and surgical costs

Electrocution injuries may require surgical procedures such as applying skin grafts. Surgical or hospital costs paid by you can be claimed as compensation as long as the surgery was necessary to treat your condition.

Rehabilitation costs

Rehabilitating after an electrical injury may involve intensive therapies as well as home and vehicle modifications and ergonomic aids. Your reasonable costs of rehabilitation can be claimed back as compensation.

Loss of income and future earning capacity

If you sustain an electrocution injury you may need time off work for several weeks or months immediately after the incident. You can claim compensation for this lost income. If your electrical injury prevents you from working in the future to the same extent as you did prior to the injury you may also be able to claim loss of future income earning capacity. This is usually estimated as a lump sum figure based on the age of the person, their usual occupation and other skills.

Loss of Superannuation

Compensation can be claimed for superannuation that would have been paid on lost income.

Care & Assistance

Serious injuries that result from electrocution may prevent you from being able to perform tasks such as personal care, cleaning, laundry, mowing your lawns, caring for the garden or other domestic chores. If you formerly performed these duties but are now unable to due to an injury you can claim compensation for care and assistance provided to you by friends, relatives or paid contractors.

In Queensland there is a minimum threshold for this type of compensation.

Interest

Interest can generally be claimed on compensation for any out of pocket expenses that are incurred before your claim is resolved.

How will my compensation be determined?

In general terms, the amount of compensation is gauged by comparing what your life was like before the injury and what it is like now as a result of the injury. Therefore, someone whose injury has had a greater impact on their life will be entitled to more compensation than someone whose injury has had only minimal impact. The amount of compensation payable for an injury will vary greatly from case to case, depending on a variety of variables such as:

  • the severity of the injury: more severe injuries will attract more compensation;
  • the age of the patient: young people are likely to receive greater compensation than older people for a similar injury as it will impact their lifestyle and employment for a longer period of time;
  • level of health prior to the incident: an active and healthy person may suffer more from an injury because they are unable to exercise the way they did prior to the accident and may become predisposed to mood disorders and other health conditions they may not have suffered were it not for their injury;
  • pre-incident lifestyle: injured claimants who formerly engaged in activities they can no longer participate in may experience greater a impact from their injuries;
  • occupation: greater compensation will be payable where a person’s ability to work in their former occupation is impacted severely by their injuries.

What time limits apply to my claim? 

Time limits

For most personal injury claims, a legal action must be commenced within three years of the date of the injury. If you miss this deadline, your claim will be statute barred and you will lose all rights to claim compensation. However, depending on where your injury occurred or who you are suing, specific pre-court procedures may apply which have their own time limits which are much sooner. If you miss these time limits you may lose your right to pursue your claim if you cannot provide sufficient reasons to the court as to why you delayed and why you should be allowed to proceed with your claim. The time limits specified by some pre-court procedures are set out below.

  • If your injuries were sustained at work: Statutory worker’s compensation claims in Queensland must be filed within six months from the date of the accident or the date you become aware of your injury. If you intend to sue your employer for negligence (otherwise known as a common law claim) you must request an assessment of permanent impairment from the workers’ compensation insurer within 2.5 years of the injury.
  • If your injuries were sustained in a motor vehicle accident: Pre-court procedures require you to serve an official Notice of Claim on the party you believe to be at fault within nine months of the injury, or within one month of your consultation with a solicitor in relation to your claim, whichever occurs first.
  • If your injuries are the subject of a public liability claim: If you are making a claim for personal injuries against an occupier, property owner or public authority, pre-court procedures require you to serve an official Notice of Claim on the party you believe to be at fault within nine months of the injury, or within one month of your consultation with a solicitor in relation to your claim, whichever is first.

If you are under 18 years of age

For minors, the obligation to serve the other party with a Notice of Claim begins when the child turns 18, however a parent or guardian may do this on behalf of the minor before they turn 18. In the case of medical negligence claims, a parent or legal guardian of a minor must serve a Notice of Claim within six years of the day when the parent or guardian knew or ought to have known of the injury.

What to do if you have been electrocuted or suffered an electric shock

Depending on the nature of your injuries and the circumstances that caused them, compensation may or may not be available. You should always seek expert legal help to see if you are able to make a claim.

Next steps - get advice now

It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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