Many legal minds making NZ LAW work

We are an association of independent legal practices, proactively sharing ideas and expertise for the benefit of our clients.

Rural Fires - Who is liable?

Published: 14th July 2015

Author: Melanie Timms, Wain & Naysmith

Published in: Fine Print | Issue #67

Every year our fire service is kept busy battling blazes in rural areas which cause substantial damage to the landscape and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put out. So who is responsible for the costs associated with fighting the fire and any damage caused by the fire?

Liability for rural fires is covered under the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977. Prior to this, you could be liable if you were negligent or if a fire had been deliberately lit and it escaped from your land. The Act simplified the position by imposing liability on the person who caused the fire, regardless of negligence.

If you’re responsible for a fire starting you will almost certainly be liable for the damage caused to other properties and the costs incurred in fighting the fire. In some circumstances you could also be held liable for the actions of your employees or third party contractors.

Avoiding liability is rare

You can only avoid liability in very limited circumstances – where the fire was accidental and the circumstances leading to the fire were extraordinary. In 2003, the High Court made an exception to the standard rule in the case of a truck and trailer driver who had a tyre blow out causing a roadside fire . The driver had kept his vehicle properly maintained and inspected, and was unaware that the tyres had blown or that the wheel rims were scraping on the road generating sparks, leading to a fire. The court found that the particular combination of events leading to the fire was extraordinary and a fire could not have been anticipated by the driver. The driver was therefore not liable for the damage caused by the fire.

Steps to take

The question then is, if you live in a rural area, what can you do to limit your exposure to liability?

  • Think about your property and the particular challenges that it would face in a fire. Every property has different characteristics which impact on fire risk. Examples are isolation, lack of adequate water sources for firefighting crews, condition of your farm tracks and the presence of power lines on your property. What precautions can you take to reduce those risks?
  • For employers: Keep your employees up to speed about fire risk and good fire safety practices.
  • Check your insurance policies carefully. Make sure your policy covers the loss of your own property, loss to third parties and cover for fire suppression costs.
  • Ensure that you understand your obligations and any exclusions or limits that may apply to your policy. Check your policy limits, including the level of cover for fire suppression costs under the legislation. The costs of putting out a rural fire can be considerable. A large fire in Marlborough earlier this year cost an estimated $1.4 million in firefighting costs.
  • Think about the type of activity being undertaken on adjoining land as well. If there’s adjoining forestry land you may want to extend your limits.
  • Check that your insurance covers all activities being carried out on your property. A Nelson couple had built three small tourist cabins on their lifestyle block . Ashes disposed of from one of the cabins by the couple started a fire causing damage of more than $1 million. As the couple had chosen not to insure the tourist business because of the cost, they could not rely on their general lifestyle policy to cover the majority of their costs. And as they hadn’t separated the ownership of the property from the operation of the tourism business, the property was exposed to any legal challenges.
  • Be aware that your insurance policy will have a reasonable care condition requiring you to take reasonable steps to minimise the risk of fire. A breach of this condition may result in you not being covered. When it’s a restricted or prohibited fire season there will be a greater degree of care required from you in carrying out activities in high risk areas.

It’s impossible to avoid the risk of a fire altogether. However, if you take steps now you can reduce the risk and ensure that if there is a fire you are covered for all losses.

The Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977 is currently under legislative review with the expectation that new legislation will be passed in the next couple of years. It’s not expected however that the provisions relating to liability for fires will change to any great degree.

Tucker v New Zealand Fire Service Commissioner [2003] NZAR 270

Nelson Forests Limited v Three Tuis Limited [2013] NZHC 856 and Garnett v Tower Insurance Limited [2011] NZCA 576

Related Articles

  • Auckland
  • Bay of Plenty
  • Canterbury
  • Coromandel
  • Gisborne
  • Hawke's Bay
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Manawatu - Wanganui
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Northland
  • Otago
  • Southland
  • Taranaki
  • Waikato
  • Wairarapa
  • Wellington
  • West Coast

Lowndes Jordan

Lowndes Jordan is a top niche law firm committed to service excellence, achieved through our dedication to understanding our clients' individual needs and requirements, developing tailored solutions and following through to ensure results are delivered.

Our commitment to quality is supported by being the first ISO 9001 certified law firm in New Zealand.

Lowndes Jordan has access to some of the nation's foremost legal and business advisory experts, allowing us to provide a full range of inputs to assist you in meeting your objectives.

We serve a wide range of clients including listed companies, multinationals, privately held companies, entrepreneurs and business individuals.

All clients have direct access to specialist partners and client service teams comprised of senior practitioners.

Region: Auckland

Phone: 09 309 2500

Kaimai Law Limited

Kaimai Law Bethlehem has been based in Bethlehem, Tauranga for nearly a decade, and our new office at The Lakes opened in March 2017.  The majority of lawyers in our professional team at Kaimai Law Bethlehem & Kaimai Law The Lakes has 10 to 30+ years of experience in their respective fields, which means that they have the knowledge required to give you legal advice you can trust. 

Kaimai Law Bethlehem & Kaimai Law The Lakes specialise in all property matters including conveyancing, finance and subdivisions, as well as family law, commercial law, estate planning, estate administration, trusts, wills, employment law and relationship property. Kaimai Law Bethlehem & The Lakes are your one stop law shops in Tauranga.

Region: Bay of Plenty

Phone: 07 579 3316

Corcoran French

Corcoran French is a firm of Christchurch and North Canterbury lawyers with over 120 years experience in providing legal services to Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region. We have offices in Christchurch City and Kaiapoi. We can also meet you at shared offices at Akaroa.

We welcome new clients and are committed to building strong long-term relationships that are rewarding for our clients.

Region: Canterbury

Phone: 03 379 4660

Purnell Lawyers

There is nothing as inevitable as change. Since opening for business early last century, we at Purnell Lawyers have seen many changes both in name and in the people who have made up the members of our team. We have been privileged to have served the public throughout all of these times. 

We are confident that we will continue to bring top quality legal services to our clients well into the future.

Region: Coromandel

Phone: 07 868 8680

Woodward Chrisp

At Woodward Chrisp we strive to meet the needs of our clients by providing a wide range of high quality legal services within a supportive and collaborative environment.

Woodward Chrisp is the amalgamation of two long established Gisborne legal firms: Woodward Iles & Co and Chrisp and Chrisp. Today’s partners are Ross Revington, Adam Simperingham, Jeff Allen and Ellie FitzGerald.

Region: Gisborne

Phone: 06 869 0900

NZ LAW Limited

NZ LAW Limited is an association of independent legal practices with member firms located throughout New Zealand. There are currently 53 member firms practising in a wide range of legal disciplines ranging from business law, home buying and selling, immigration law and intellectual property to aviation law and viticulture.

The group was established in 1992 when about five law firms met in Auckland to find a way to benefit their clients by replicating the conviviality and the sharing of ideas and expertise that occurs in larger law firms, but still be able to retain client confidentiality and their own independence.

Region: Hawke's Bay

Phone: 06 835 5299

BMC Lawyers

BMC lawyers has built a reputation for providing quality service and delivering real results. Our strength is our broad-ranging legal experience that gives us the ability to match clients with the right mix of legal skills for their particular needs.

Our legal professionals are passionate about what they do and work alongside a talented team of support and administration staff to make a real positive difference to our clients.”

Region: Kapiti Coast

Phone: 04 296 1105

CS Law

Looking after you, your family, and the small print.

Region: Manawatu - Wanganui

Phone: 06 368 9239

Wain & Naysmith

Based in Blenheim, Wain & Naysmith Lawyers is a full service law firm, and a powerhouse for property, family and business law.

We pride ourselves in providing clear and cost effective legal solutions and practical advice for you, your family and your business.

Region: Marlborough

Phone: 03 520 6103

Knapps Lawyers

As a firm, we promise to look after you and treat you in a manner that we would expect to be treated by a professional services provider; we promise to use every available legal remedy available to us to resolve your issue and to do what you ask us to do in a timely manner.

We will hold in strict confidence all information that we acquire through our work for you and which concerns your business or personal information.  The only exceptions are where you authorise us to disclose such information or where we must do so by law.

Region: Nelson

Phone: 03 544 7888

Thomson Wilson

Thomson Wilson is a full service law firm based in Whangarei. We’ve been trusted lawyers for the Northland community and beyond for 75 years.

We act for individuals and families, businesses, public sector and other organisations. Whether you need no-fuss advice on a simple matter, or a team of legal experts. 

Our staff provide advice in most areas of the law, including property law, business law, trusts and estates, separation and divorce, resource management, criminal law and more.

We also offer expertise in specialist areas such as Maori land, local government law, farming and forestry.

Region: Northland

Phone: 09 430 4380

Mactodd

MacTodd is a leading South Island law firm with a national reputation for its experience and expertise across a wide range of the law.

Serving the local community and national and offshore clients for over 40 years, MacTodd prides itself on being a fully comprehensive law firm with an innovative approach, meeting the demands and time zones of its diverse clientele.

MacTodd's hallmark is our friendly and professional approach. Our state-of-the-art technology provides an accurate, efficient and cost-effective service.

Region: Otago

Phone: 03 441 0125

Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd

Incorporating traditional values and a fresh perspective, Sheddan Pritchard Law is here to assist you with all your legal needs. 

Our friendly and team-driven approach underpins our firm’s values, recognising the importance of putting people first and allows us to connect and nurture professional relationships with new and existing clients within our local community of Gore, as well as throughout New Zealand and extending overseas.

Region: Southland

Phone: 03 209 0030

Welsh McCarthy

Welsh McCarthy practises in Hawera, South Taranaki. Predominant industries in the South Taranaki district are dairy farming, oil and gas. The South Taranaki area also has the largest one-site multi product milk processing facility in the world

We deal with company and commercial transactions, commercial and family law, farm and residential sales and purchases, estate planning and family and charitable trusts. A large part of the firm also deals in the area of family law.

Region: Taranaki

Phone: 06 278 5039

Allen Needham & Co Ltd

Sir Stephen Allen, founder of the firm, was admitted to the bar on the 7th of December 1906 and subsequently set up practice in the building illustrated below on the present site of our offices at 52 Canada Street, Morrinsville on the 1st of January 1907.

Mr Arthur Needham was admitted to the bar on the 1st of March 1923 and Mr R. B. Morton on the 24th of November 1924. They joined Sir Stephen in partnership under the name of Allen, Needham & Morton.

The firm was subsequently called Allen, Needham, Sanford & Lang when the partners of the firm were John Needham (son of Arthur Needham, and father of Rod Needham, a present partner), Howard Sanford, Fred Lang and Graeme Ashmore.

Graeme Ashmore left the firm in 1972 and Howard Sanford retired as a partner in 1974 when Greg McDonnell became a partner with John Needham and Fred Lang.

The firm changed its name to Allen, Needham & Co. in 1986 when new partners Rod Needham and Bob Craven joined the firm. In December 2010 the firm became an incorporated company.

Region: Waikato

Phone: 07 889 5062

Gawith Burridge

Gawith Burridge traces its history back to 1875 when Charles Gawith first set up his practice. Since then the firm has undergone many changes, including a merger between Gawith & Co and Burridge & Co in 1998 to form our current practice.

Our firm draws on the breadth of expertise available from some of the region’s most senior legal practitioners, as well as the skills of those who have moved here from larger corporate environments.

As a result, we provide clients with a comprehensive range of legal services right here in the Wairarapa. We can provide you with legal assistance whether you are an individual or a company, with everything from setting up a Will to selling your farming business. 

Region: Wairarapa

Phone: 06 370 0000

Greg Kelly Law Ltd

Greg Kelly Law Limited is a boutique Wellington law firm specialising in trust and elder law. Our practice areas are wills, estates and trusts.

We act for private and institutional clients establishing and administering trusts, wills and estates. We also provide quality advice to legal and accounting firms in New Zealand and overseas. In particular, we can assist with legal opinions, obtaining and resealing probate, and estate and trust litigation.

Region: Wellington

Phone: 04 499 5193

Hannan & Seddon

The Law Firm of Hannan & Seddon dates back to September 1867.

The firm's offices were in Werita Street from 1867 until 1982 when the firm moved to Tarapuhi Street and then to its current spacious premises at 61 Guinness Street in 1998.

The name Hannan comes from Mr Michael Hannan whose son John Hannan (Jack) joined the firm in 1908. Jack Hannan remained in partnership until he passed away in 1974 at the age of 90!

The name Seddon comes from Mr T E Y Seddon (son of Premier Richard John Seddon from Kumara) who joined the firm in the 1920's. The other prominent Solicitor at Hannan & Seddon was Cyril McGinley who joined the firm in the late 1920’s and retired as a Consultant in 1997 aged 87.

Currently we have two Partners within our firm. Tony Sullivan who has been with us for 29 years and Colin Smith, 26 years. The firm also has two long serving Legal Executives Elaine Knowles and Beverley Walsh.  

Region: West Coast

Phone: 03 768 4169

All the information published on this website, or in any article herein is true and accurate to the best of the authors' knowledge. Information on this site should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by NZ LAW Limited, or individual NZ LAW member firms for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on information published on this site. Views expressed in any article are the views of the authors individually and do not necessarily reflect the view of NZ LAW or their member firms. Information appearing on this site may only be reproduced with prior approval from NZ LAW Limited Head Office, and credit being given to the source. © NZ LAW Limited