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Are you liable for fire damage to your neighbour’s property?

12 March 2013

All lawyers are taught that the rule created by the 1868 case of Rylands v Fletcher imposes strict liability for the foreseeable consequences of a landowner’s failure to control the risk that something which he brings onto, collects or keeps on his land may escape and cause damage to adjoining land.

Court of Appeal

A recent Court of Appeal case revisited the rule and reinforced the importance of having insurance cover for losses caused by a fire on your premises.

The decision clarifies that although it is possible for damage caused by fire stemming from an adjoining property to fall within the Rylands v Fletcher rule, such a case is likely to be rare. In practice, it will be very difficult to succeed in a claim for fire damage without proof of negligence.

In this case, the landowner operated a tyre fitting business. The tyres were stored in and around the building. A fire, caused by an electrical wiring fault, broke out and was fed by the ignition of the large stack of tyres. It spread to the next door property destroying both premises.

Landowner liability

Under the rule the court had to consider whether the landowner had brought an exceptionally dangerous ‘thing’ onto his land which had escaped from his premises, causing damage to the neighbouring land. In this case, the item in question was a vast number of tyres, which were not in themselves exceptionally dangerous. It was the fire that had escaped rather than the tyres, and therefore liability was not established.

The judge commented that although damage caused by a fire originating from adjoining land could fall within the rule, it was likely to be very rare because the ‘thing’ brought onto the land must escape, not the fire which was started or increased by the ‘thing’. There would only be a liability if the fire spread to the next-door property because it was started deliberately or negligently by the adjoining occupier.

Contact our property litigation department today to receive expert legal advice about liability for fire damage to your neighbour’s property.

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Nick Cox LLB (Hons)
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