BGH Finds Grid Operator Liable for Damages under Product Liability Act in Case of Overvoltage

In a judgement delivered in February, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled that a municipal grid operator was liable for damages caused to private property under the Product Liability Act (ProdHaftG) following overvoltage in the grid.

Defendant operates the municipal grid and provides it to electricity generators that feed electricity into the grid and electricity consumers alike. To this end defendant also transforms electricity to the low voltage level (approximately 230 Volt).

Following a power failure in the residential area, in which plaintiff lives, an overvoltage occurred that damaged several electronic appliances and the heating system of plaintiff. The overvoltage was caused by the disruption of two so-called PEN conductors (PEN = protective earth neutral)  that connect the house of plaintiff with an earthing system.

The local court (Amtsgericht) dismissed the action seeking compensation for damages. Upon appeal the regional court (Landgericht) awarded plaintiff damages pursuant to Section 11 ProdHaftG, less a deductible of EUR 500. BGH dismissed defendant’s appeal against this decision.

BGH argues as follows:

Defendant is subject to strict liability (liability without fault) pursuant to Section 1 para. 1 ProdHaftG. According to Section 2 ProdHaftG  electricity is a product covered by ProdHaftG. Due to the overvoltage the electricity supplied by defendant was faulty in the sense of Section 3 para. 1 ProdHaftG and caused the damage to the electronic appliances and the heating system of plaintiff, all ordinary appliances (in the sense of the law). Electricity customers need not expect such excessive fluctuations of the voltage. According to Section 4 para. 1 sent. 1 ProdHaftG defendant is the manufacturer of the faulty product (in the sense of ProdHaftG), since defendant transforms the electricity to the low voltage level to which end consumers are connected. In the process the electricity is significantly modified by the grid operator, as end consumers can only use the electricity with normal appliances following the transformation. In accordance with Section § 1 para. 2 no. 2 ProdHaftG the product (the electricity) was defective when it was placed on the market (at the time of the  “Inverkehrbringen”), as electricity is only placed on the market when it is supplied by the grid operator via the grid connection point to the user of the point of connection.

Source: BGH ref. no. VI ZR 144/13

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