Hergott: Horrendous ‘accidents’ create accountability standards

It was impossible to identify, and hold accountable, the person who created that hazard in the first place.

Paul HergottA 10-month old baby suffered what was referred to by the judge as “horrible injuries,” when she got her hands and mouth on the electrically charged end of a modified extension cord.

The cord had been modified to have two pronged ends, one of which was plugged in.

A lawsuit is under way to pursue fair, financial compensation for the child’s profound injuries which have changed her life forever.

The first phase of that lawsuit is now over with a June 14, 2016, decision of Madam Justice Young who dealt with the “who’s at fault” liability aspect of the case.

The decision, Boyes v. Wong, 2016 BCSC 1085, can be found online.

Lawsuits like this one are important. Absent a lawsuit, which is all about accountability, this incident might have been simply viewed as a horrible “accident.”

The lawsuit has shone a very bright light on the incident to assess whether or not someone failed this little girl.

We can all learn from the analysis, as a reminder of what “duties of care” each of us might owe in similar circumstances.

Through the lawsuit, this child’s suffering can help prevent others from horrible injuries.

Was a lawsuit needed to shine a light on how dangerous it is to have an electrical cord with two pronged ends?

Incidentally, it was impossible to identify, and hold accountable, the person who created that hazard in the first place.

The modified cord was a part of a creative solution to run power through a built-in wall cabinet. The cabinet had been in place, with that dangerous double-pronged extension cord, for years.

The “creative electrician” certainly did not foresee the horrible consequences of the creativity. It’s a lesson to each of us who try to handle things that are outside our expertise.

How many electrical jobs are done without a qualified electrician? How often do we cut corners, and cut costs, by trying to do all sorts of things ourselves without bringing in the qualified professionals?

The true focus of the lawsuit was on the responsibilities of a landlord and property manager of a rental unit.

The hazardous cord was not readily apparent.

You wouldn’t know, looking at the end that harmed the baby, that the other end was also pronged and plugged into power.

Madam Justice Young carefully reviewed the provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act and the evidence of property managers that were called as witnesses at the trial.

Based on that review, she provided a list setting out “the standard of care owed by a landlord or property manager.” It is a list that should, in my view, be circulated among all landlords and property managers.

The list includes an obligation to conduct a thorough inspection of rental premises before renting to a new tenant, to ensure that the premises is safe.

The judge found that had this been done, the property manager would have looked through the wall cabinet and identified patently obvious unprofessional electrical work.

On identifying that issue, the property manager would have been expected to hire a qualified electrician to investigate the matter, which would have revealed the hazard.

How many landlords or property managers go through their rental premises, between tenants, with the level of care that has been determined by Madam Justice Young to be required by law?

How many basement suites were constructed without the assistance of a qualified electrician in the first place?

How many other types of hazards, besides electrical, might be identified if a thorough safety inspection is carried out between tenants?

Incidentally, it was determined that such a thorough inspection should be conducted not only between tenants, but also annually in the circumstance of a longer term tenant.

The list I referred to, setting out the standard of care owed by a landlord or property manager, is at paragraph 204 of the decision.

I would be happy to provide a copy/past of that list, as well as a link to the decision itself, to anyone interested. I hope to get a lot of requests.