Quick Referencer for Judicial Service

Q.     ‘P’ and ‘D’ were neighbours. In the centre of D’s land, 250 yards from the boundary, stood a tall red gum tree. One Saturday, the tree was struck by lightning and began to burn. On Sunday ‘D’ had the tree cut down but instead of extinguishing the fire left the tree to burn itself out. ‘D’ was away from home on Tuesday. On Wednesday a freshening wind in a temperature of 105 degree F. Revived the fire, which spread to P’s property and damaged it. Discuss the liability of ‘D’.

Ans: ‘D’ is liable for the loss of P’s property by negligence but not liable under the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ propounded in the famous case of Ryland v. Fletcher; Goldman v. Hargrave, (1967) 1 AC 645.

Reasons:   In the leading case of Ryland v. Fletcher, it was held that if a person brings on his land and keeps anything which is likely to do mischief keeps it at his own peril and if it escapes from his land and causes loss to another, he will be liable for the loss even though he was not negligent in escaping the thing from there.

The rule laid down in Ryland v. Fletcher is known as rule of ‘Strict Liability’.

Facts of the given problem have been taken from the famous case of Goldman v. Hargrave. In this case Privy Council held that defendant is not liable under the doctrine of ‘Strict Liability’ propounded in the leading case of Ryland v. Fletcher but liable for loss caused to the property of the plaintiff by negligence for not extinguishing the fire which he could have done without much expense. Privy Council further held that there is a general duty of care on an occupier on which a hazard to his neighbour arises, to remove or reduce the hazard, whether it arises by the Act of God, or from natural causes or by human agency; and the standard of duty of care is to require the occupier to do what is reasonable having regard to the circumstances and the resources that he actually had.

From the above discussions it is clear that in the given problem ‘D’ is not liable under the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ because he did not himself bring the fire on his land and kept it there for his own use, more over he did nothing to make its presence more dangerous. However, he is liable for negligence in not extinguishing the fire which he could do without much expense.

-Kishor Prasad

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