Burning the house down: liability for escape of fire
In this IIL property investors lecture Michele De Gregorio talked about the liability of property owners for the spread of fire, covering: strict liability under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher; liability for the acts of independent contractors and trespassers; and consideration of some insurance issues that commonly arise.
Owners and occupiers of property can face liability for the spread of fire from their premises in many situations.
An owner will be liable for the spread of fire caused by their own negligence or that of their employee, but can they be strictly liable in the absence of negligence? Statute first enabled in the time of Queen Anne (the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act) may suggest not, but until recently it has been possible to bring a claim under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The Court of Appeal in Gore v Stannard  QB 1 has recently considered this issue in depth.
It is an exception to the general law of vicarious liability that property owners may be liable for the spread of fires caused by the negligence of independent contractors on their land. Owners may also be liable for fires caused by trespassers. the circumstances in which such liability may attach will be considered.
Finally, property owners policies and liability policies often contain conditions or warranties concerning fire precautions. Some common policy issues arising in such cases will be discussed.
By the end of this lecture members would have gained an insight into:
- Whether a property owner/occupier may be strictly liable for the escape of fire
- When an owner may be liable for fires caused by independent contractors or trespassers
- Some common insurance issues arising in such cases
Steve Berning ACII, Underwriting Manager, Property Investors, Global Corporate & Specialty, Aviva.
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