Supreme Court Warms to Inference as to Cause of Fire
Thursday 17 September 2015 / by John Van de Poll and Vahini Chetty posted in Insurance

Last week, the New South Wales Supreme Court handed down a decision in the matter of Anderson v Ausgrid [2015] NSWSC 1308 which is likely to be extremely helpful to insurers seeking recovery as a result of fire damage.

The claim arose after Mr and Mrs Anderson’s home was damaged by a fire a month after Ausgrid had replaced one of their electricity meters.

Given the extent of damage to the property, it was impossible to determine exactly where the fire started. The burn patterns around the meter box however, indicated it was most likely the origin of the fire. In addition, a neighbour provided evidence that she had heard popping noises and seen sparks flying from the meter box just shortly before the fire started.

Under their contract for service, Ausgrid is only responsible for the meters housed within the meter box and the point of power supply. All other components of the meter box are the consumer’s responsibility.

Ausgrid argued that Mr and Mrs Anderson’s case should fail on the basis that they could not prove conclusively where the fire began. Furthermore, they argued the fire could have originated in any component of the meter box and that Mr and Mrs Anderson could not disprove this.

The plaintiffs’ expert evidence indicated that the most likely cause of the fire was the incorrect installation of the meter after it was replaced. The expert’s hypothesis was that the time between the replacement of the meter and the fire was consistent with the time it would take a loose connection in the meter to manifest itself.

Whilst the plaintiffs’ expert could not conclusively state the fire was not caused by any other component of the meter box, he found the probability of this was extremely low.

Ausgrid’s expert disagreed the most probable cause of the fire was faulty installation of the meter. He was of the view that such a fault would have manifested itself much sooner. He did however concede that it was a possible cause of the fire.

Her Honour, Justice Adamson, ultimately found that an inability to show precisely how the fire started was not fatal to the plaintiffs’ case. She also found that, in order for the plaintiffs to succeed, it was unnecessary for them to exclude all other possible explanations for the known facts. All that was required was for the plaintiffs to be able to satisfy the Court as to the most likely cause of the fire.

Judgement was entered in favour of the plaintiffs together with costs and interest.

By Vahini Chetty, Associate and John Van de Poll, Partner

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