Eskom Holdings Ltd v Hendricks
This media summary is intended for the benefit of the media and does not form part of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal
The Supreme Court of Appeal today dismissed the appeal of Eskom which was held to have been negligent by the Cape High Court for failing to take adequate precautions to prevent the public, and especially children, from climbing one of its electric pylons and coming into dangerous proximity of the high voltage power lines. The evidence revealed that an 11 year old boy had climbed through an anti-climbing device without much difficulty. The device took the form of a horizontal fence of barbed wire. The wire rested in grooves in the horizontal bars that supported it and the child was able to push the wire out of the grooves and climb through the fence without requiring even an ordinary pair of pliers to do so. The SCA found that Eskom had failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent harm which it conceded was reasonably foreseeable.
In a cross-appeal it was contended on behalf of the child that he had not attained the maturity required to incur liability for negligence and that the Cape High Court had erred in ruling that he was guilty of contributory negligence. The SCA upheld this contention. It appeared that after climbing to a height of 14 metres in a race with his younger brother to see who could climb the highest, the boy spied the glass insulators supporting the power lines and tried to touch one for no better reason than to feel its texture. In the process he came too close to one of the power lines which carried 66 000 volts and the current jumped the gap in a phenomenon known as a ‘flash over’. The boy fell to the ground in flames and was lucky to survive. The SCA held that this impulsive and extremely dangerous behaviour was indicative of a lack of the capacity required to render him liable for negligence.