Tuesday 23 January 2018

Court rules neighbours responsible for fire in adjoining home

Court rules neighbours responsible for fire in adjoining home
Court rules neighbours responsible for fire in adjoining home

A COUPLE whose home went on fire caused by the negligence of a builder's work on their roof are responsible for the damage which was 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 neighbours, both innocent parties, must bear the loss.

William Feeney who lives at number 44 Farmhill Road, Goatstown, Dublin, brought an action after his semi-detached home was damaged by a fire next door, number 46, owned by Alberto and Jenny Andreucetti.

Shortly after independent contractor, Michael Reilly, trading as Elm Construction, carried out works on the Andreucetti's roof in January 2012, a fire broke out which spread to Mr Feeney's home, the High Court heard.

Last December, the court found the fire, which caused substantial damage to both properties, had been caused by the negligence of Mr  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 Mr Feeney must succeed against the contractor Michael 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 an escape of fire 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

Mr Feeney argued his neighbours are 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 which says there is no liability for the accidental escape of fire, it was also argued.

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 England and Ireland 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, he said.

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