The plaintiff and her minor child resided in a sectional title complex. On 10 September 2015, while helping his mother wash her car, the plaintiff’s son was electrocuted whilst trying to open a tap outside a unit.

The occupier of that unit had requested improvements to be done to her kitchen wherein several contractors were hired by the owner to attend to the job. The occupier approached the owner’s representatives to attend to the improvements. The owner hired a contractor, the third party, to attend to the refurbishments of the kitchen cupboards. During the course of the repairs, the third party’s workers drilled into the wall and damaged the electric installation in the unit. The contractor then hired the first defendant to attend repair the electrical damage.

However, the occupier of the unit realised that the plumbing in the unit was electrically live and that the electrical installation had still not been properly repaired. She advised the owner’s representative and requested him to send someone to attend to the repairs.  It was found that the electrical contractor had disconnected the plugs in the kitchen and by doing so had caused a dangerous environment ultimately factually causing the incident of 10 September 2015. For safety reasons, the occupier of the unit switched off the electrical supply to the unit.

When the contractors returned to complete the improvements to the kitchen, they switched the electricity supply to the unit, despite being aware of the damage to the electrical installation.

The court considered whether this act by the contractors was a new intervening cause which severed the chain of causation between the electrical contractor and the child’s injury. It was found that when the electricity was switched off for repairs to be done it broke the chain of causation in relation to the electrical contractor’s conduct. The court found that the actions by the kitchen contractors in switching on the power constituted a new intervening cause because they knew of the danger. Therefore their action was “unusual”, “unexpected” and not “reasonably foreseeable” .

On this basis, the action against the electrical contractor failed.

The court found the owner of the unit and the kitchen contractor jointly liable for the plaintiff’s proved damages.  The court explained that the owner’s representative was his agent and as such the agent had a duty to inform him of the electricity issues at the unit. On this basis the court imputed the knowledge of the situation to the owner. Both second defendant and the contractor were found liable for the negligent   acts of their agents or employees and each was ordered to indemnify the claimant for 50% of the damages.

SD v Ncube [2022] 48584-2017 (GP)