LAW REPORT: No duty owed to owner by attending and fighting fire

Digital Equipment and others v Hampshire County Council and others: Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, Lord Justice Potter, Lord Justice Judge) 14 March 1997

A fire brigade was not, by merely attending at and fighting a fire, under a duty of care to the owners of premises damaged or destroyed by the fire, although it would be liable where a danger created by its negligence caused extra damage, unless it could show that the extra damage would have occurred in any event.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals, which had been consolidated because they raised similar points of law.

In the Hampshire case, the fire brigade had turned off the sprinkler system at premises which were on fire, as a result of which the fire had spread causing the total loss of the building. The fire brigade was found liable for the extra damage so caused. In the London case, damage had been caused to premises which the fire brigade had failed to inspect after extinguishing a fire on adjoining wasteland. The West Yorkshire case concerned a fire at a chapel which could not be contained because of the absence of a proper water supply. In those two cases the fire brigade was held not to be liable.

James Munby QC and Edward Faulks QC (Council Solicitor) for Hampshire; Ronald Walker QC and Toby Hooper (Hextall Erskine & Co) for John Munroe; Anthony Boswood QC and Bruce Speller (Devonshires) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; Jonathan Sumption QC and Nigel Tozzi (Barlow Lyde & Gilbert) for Digital; John Slater QC, Simon Brown QC and Alexander Antelme (Cameron Markby Hewitt) for Capital; Michael De Navarro QC and Graham Eklund (Legal Branch, LFCD) for London Fire and Civil Defence; Colin MacKay QC and Jonathan Bellamy (Davies Arnold Cooper) for West Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said that there was no reported case in this country on the question whether, once they had started to fight a fire, a fire brigade owed a duty of care to the owner of the property on fire, or to anyone else to whose property the fire might spread.

In the Hampshire case the judge had found for the property owners on the basis that a duty of care existed where there had been a direct infliction of foreseeable physical damage. There was no doubt that where a rescue service, by its negligence, created the danger which caused a plaintiff's injury, the plaintiff could recover unless the rescue service could show that the extra damage would have occurred in any event.

It had been submitted for all the owners that there was sufficient proximity between the parties to establish a duty of care, on the basis of assumption of responsibility by the fire brigade and particular reliance by the owner. A fire brigade did not, however, enter into a relationship of sufficient proximity with the owner or occupier of premises to create a duty of care merely by attending at and fighting a fire.

It was perhaps unnecessary, therefore, in the London and West Yorkshire cases, to consider whether as a matter of policy it was just, fair and reasonable that a duty of care should exist. The question was, however, closely related to that of proximity.

There was no ground in a case such as the Hampshire case, where the fire brigade had created or increased the danger by turning off the sprinklers, for giving immunity.

Had a sufficient relationship of proximity existed in the London and West Yorkshire cases, the argument that it would not have been just, fair and reasonable to impose a duty of care would not have been convincing. The principles underlying the cases where immunity had been granted could not be sufficiently identified in the case of fire brigades.

It was not possible either to argue for the existence of statutory immunity: section 30 of the Fire Services Act 1947 was not apt to establish an implied immunity from proceedings in negligence, whether brought by the owners of damaged property, other firemen working at the scene, or persons who had suffered personal injury.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy