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Infrastructure

A power outage (or six) fried your appliance. Who pays up?


Sit down for this one because you’re going to be stunned, but the answer to who pays if a power outage kills your electrical appliance is… essentially, you.

Several residents contacted Cabin Radio in the aftermath of Yellowknife’s extraordinary six-outage weekend streak, reporting damaged devices and wondering what recourse they have.

We asked the NWT Power Corporation.

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A spokesperson pointed us to section 13.2 of the power corporation’s terms and conditions, which any customer has to accept for power delivery to commence – though not everyone in the NWT is a power corp customer, and we’ll come back to that shortly.

Section 13.2, which works very hard to limit the circumstances in which the power corporation is paying for anything, states (deep breath):

“The Corporation shall not be liable for any loss, injury, damage, expense, charge, cost or liability of any kind (including legal and other professional fees and disbursements), whether direct or indirect, which the Customer may suffer, sustain, pay or incur (collectively, “Losses”) arising out of or in any way connected with (i) any use of Service by the Customer, or (ii) any failure, defect, fluctuation, reduction or interruption in the provision of Service by the Corporation to the Customer, other than Losses for direct physical loss, injury or damage to a Customer or a Customer’s property to the extent resulting directly from the negligent acts or omissions or willful misconduct of the Corporation, its employees or agents).”

The power corporation’s spokesperson provide the following helpful translation:

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“Unless a root-cause investigation into the outages that occurred [at the weekend] finds that they were caused by ‘negligent acts or omissions or wilful misconduct,’ NTPC will not be liable for any property damage.”

In that interpretation, your ability to make a claim relies on the power corporation producing a report that states the power corporation acted with negligence or wilful misconduct. This is possible, but you may conclude it is not likely.

More likely, you would have to go to court and attempt to prove that negligence or wilful misconduct were involved (and of course, they may very well not have been).

But if you live in Yellowknife, you probably aren’t an NWT Power Corporation customer.

In Yellowknife, the power corporation generates electricity then sells it to Northland Utilities, which acts as the distributor by carrying it from the power corp to your home or office. Yellowknifers paying for power are, in most circumstances, paying Northland and not the power corp.

The power corporation told Cabin Radio anyone in Yellowknife who thinks their property was damaged should contact Northland Utilities, a suggestion for which Northland is no doubt profoundly grateful.

However, don’t get your hopes up. Northland has virtually identical wording in its own terms and conditions – as do most, if not all utility providers.

Here we go again, this time from Section 9.2 of the Northland document.

“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in these Terms and Conditions, the Company shall not be liable for any loss, injury, damage, expense, charge, cost or liability of any kind, whether of direct, indirect, special or consequential nature, (excepting only direct physical loss, injury or damage to a Customer or a Customer’s property, resulting from the negligent acts or omissions of the Company, its employees or agents) arising out of or in any way connected with the provision of service by the Company to its Customers including, but not limited to, any failure, defect, fluctuation, reduction or interruption in the provision of Service by the Company to its Customers or the Company’s failure to meet an In-Service Date provided that the Company has made reasonable efforts to meet the said In-Service Date. For the purposes of the foregoing and without otherwise restricting the generality thereof, “direct physical loss, injury or damage” shall not include loss of revenue, loss of profits, loss of earnings, loss of production, loss of contract, cost of purchased or replacement capacity and Energy, cost of capital, and loss of use of any Facilities or property, or any other similar damage or loss whatsoever.”

Neither Northland nor NTPC will be winning plain-English awards for their terms and conditions any time soon.

Reading between their many lines, the companies are stating they have no liability – except in extremely limited circumstances – when power outages cook your crockpot, toast your toaster or tumble your dryer.

Terms and conditions are not necessarily the final word in a situation. If you can demonstrate that a set of terms and conditions imposed on you by a company is so egregiously unfair as to be legally unsound, you may be able to persuade a court to find in your favour regardless of how impregnable the small print in your contract seems.

But that requires time, effort and money – and arguably more of each than going to the store and replacing your fridge.

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