Tuesday 17 October 2017

Couple liable for damage to their neighbour's house following fire

The case was in the high court
The case was in the high court

Tim Healy

A COUPLE whose house fire was caused by the negligence of a builder's work on their roof are responsible for damage also caused to their neighbour's property, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said it seemed to him that it came down to which of the two sets of neighbours - both innocent parties - must bear the loss.

William Feeney who lives at Farmhill Road, Goatstown, Dublin, brought an action after his semi-detached home was damaged by a fire next door, owned by Alberto and Jenny Andreucetti.

The court heard the fire broke out shortly after independent contractor Michael Reilly, trading as Elm Construction, carried out works on the Andreucettis' roof in January 2012.

Damage

Last December, the court found the fire, which caused substantial damage to both properties, had been caused by the negligence of Reilly.

The damage to Mr Feeney's property, the court heard, was in the region of €94,000.

Mr Feeney sued both his neighbours and the contractor.

Mr Justice Noonan said it was clear, given the court's decision last December, that Mr Feeney must succeed against the contractor, Reilly.

The Andreucettis had argued that, in the normal way, they would have no liability for the negligence of the independent contractor.

While it may be the law in England that an occupier is liable for a fire caused by the negligence of an independent contractor, the Irish court was not bound to take the same view, they contended.

They also claimed it would be unjust to impose liability on an innocent party, and contrary to public policy.

However, Mr Feeney argued his neighbours were liable for the fire damage his home sustained as it was not caused by an accident, but by negligence.

They could not avail of the Accidental Fires Act 1943, it was also argued.

Injustice

Mr Justice Noonan said that he did not accept the imposition of liability on the Andreucettis necessarily worked as an injustice.

Mr Feeney, he said, could surely complain of the same injustice if the Andreucettis were found not to be liable.

In the final analysis he said it came down to which of the two innocent parties must bear the loss.

The Courts in Ireland and England have consistently taken the view it should be the occupier of the property from which the fire escapes, he said.

It may well be "the genesis of the policy behind this rule" has been lost in the mists of time", the judge said.

This rule had not been abolished by the Oireachtas in the 1943 Act, but had been limited by its exclusion to fires starting accidentally and no more.

Irish Independent

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