Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Zealand family may sue after man reliant on breathing apparatus dies during power cut

From Sunday News in New Zealand:

The family of a man reliant on a breathing apparatus who died following a power cut are being backed by a lawyer already pursing a similar case.

Wayne Haaima, 28, who was wheelchair-bound and needed assistance to breathe, died Dec. 9 during a power cut in the small North Otago town of Palmerston.

A fault cut power to about 1000 customers in the area, about 60km northeast of Dunedin, from 3am on Thursday until 4.28am.

Police advised contractors of Haaima's death during the night but it is unclear whether the power loss was responsible. The matter has now been referred to the coroner.

PowerNet chief executive Martin Walton said the company was not aware anyone in the affected area had a medical condition.

Haaima's case echoes that of Fololoe Muliaga who used an oxygen machine and died in 2007 after power was cut to her south Auckland home due to unpaid bills.

Lawyer Olinda Woodroffe has launched a civil claim on behalf of the Muliaga family against Mercury Energy and Middlemore Hospital seeking a minimum of $200,000 in damages. Woodroffe said that while she was unaware of the full facts surrounding the death of Haaima, she said his family could have recourse through the courts.

"If the family feels there was some wrong-doing by the electricity company, the law is there to protect them. It would be a difficult case but not impossible," she said. "My advice to them is that if you think you have been wronged, don't give up."

She said the onus would be on the Haaima family to prove the company had acted negligently.