WESTERN Power is seeking millions of dollars in court costs from the victims of a bushfire in the Perth Hills rather than pursuing its subcontractor, which was found largely liable for the blaze.
The 2014 fire in Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena was sparked by a fallen power pole and destroyed 57 homes, partially damaged six homes and burnt 392 hectares.
The termite-ridden jarrah pole was privately owned by pensioner Noreen Campbell, but was connected to infrastructure owned by the state-run utility and serviced by its subcontractor Theiss.
A group action on behalf of 189 affected residents was heard in the WA Supreme Court last year and in March, Justice Rene Le Miere ruled Theiss had been negligent by failing to ensure its line crew properly inspected the pole, saying the workers were not adequately trained.
He dismissed claims against Western Power, saying it had discharged its duty of care by contracting Theiss.
On Wednesday, Slater and Gordon practice group leader Rory Walsh said the utility could claim costs back from Theiss’ insurer and there was no reason to pursue the victims.
“Our clients, who are continuing to suffer the devastating financial impacts of this fire, had the courage to take on Western Power and its negligent subcontractor, and in doing so raised significant issues of safety within the WA electricity networks,” he said.
“Western Power has sought to justify chasing the victims of the fire in preference to its negligent subcontractor the court found was responsible for starting it, by arguing the terms of the service contract requires it do so.
“We are not persuaded by that argument, but if it were correct then Western Power made a bad bargain on behalf of the citizens of WA.”
Mr Walsh said the firm was “vigorously” opposing the application.
“Whether it is intended or not to do so, it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of future fire victims to challenge Western Power,” he said.
“They should not be allowed to get away with this.”
— Community News is seeking comment from Western Power.