International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Australian wildfire litigation

Michael Eburn A B C and Stephen Dovers A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Fenner School of Environment and Society, Building 48, Linnaeus Way, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

B ANU College of Law, Building 5, Fellows Road, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: michael.eburn@anu.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(5) 488-497 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF11094
Submitted: 7 July 2011  Accepted: 15 December 2011   Published: 30 April 2012

Abstract

Legal liability is an issue that concerns volunteer firefighters and may affect the ability of fire managers to perform their tasks. There are calls to guarantee firefighters will not be personally liable for actions undertaken in good faith. This paper reviews post-wildfire litigation in Australia and claims for compensation made against the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. Although the data are incomplete and likely to underestimate the actual claims history, analysis of the available data does show that the number of claims for compensation is small given the very large number of fires and hazard reduction burns across Australia. There is no evidence of extensive post-fire litigation or of fire agencies or firefighters being held liable for actions taken in the course of firefighting The evidence does not support assertions that there is an ‘increasing flood’ of legal claims arising from firefighting. Post-fire litigation is compared with other proceeding such as Royal Commissions and coronial inquiries. It is argued that it is not liability, but the lengthy post-event inquiry process and the risk of personal criticism that should be the concern of fire managers and firefighters.

Additional keywords: duty of care, law, legislation.


References

AustLII (2010) Celebrating 15 years of free access to law. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/austlii/announce/2010/4.pdf [Verified 2 November 2011]

Australian Productivity Commission (2008) ‘Report on Government Services.’ (Government of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

Barber E (1977) ‘Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Occurrence of Bush and Grass Fires in Victoria.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Burmah Oil v. Lord Advocate (1965) Appeal Cases (UK) 75. (House of Lords) Available at http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/1964/1964_SC_HL_117.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Burnie Port Authority v. General Jones Pty Ltd (1994) 179 Commonwealth law reports 520. (High Court of Australia) Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1994/13.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Bush Fires Act (1954) (WA). Available at http://www.slp.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_106_homepage.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Bushfires Act (1980) (NT). Available at http://notes.nt.gov.au/dcm/legislat/legislat.nsf/d989974724db65b1482561cf0017cbd2/79e42bcbe63571df69257623007a3d35?OpenDocument [Verified 26 November 2011]

Cal Health & Saf Code (2010). Available at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/calawquery?codesection=hsc [Verified 26 November 2011]

Cameron JW (2003) ‘Fire Prevention and Preparedness.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Chambers DM, Brettingham-Moore CG (1967) ‘The Bushfire Disaster of 7th February, 1967: Report and Summary of Evidence.’ (Government of Tasmania: Hobart, Tas.)

Cochran P (Chair) (1994) ‘Report of the Select Committee on Bushfires.’ (Parliament of NSW: Sydney)

Country Fire Authority Act (1958) (Vic.). Available at http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/LTObject_Store/LTObjSt6.nsf/DDE300B846EED9C7CA257616000A3571/3580CA8578F95947CA25793C007B5F51/$FILE/58-6228aa138%20authorised.pdf [Verified 26 November 2011]

Department of Conservation v. Smythe (2007) (District Court at Kaikohe, Callander J, 2 October 2007) [Unreported]

Department of Conservation v. Smythe (2008) (District Court at Kaikohe, Callander J, 17 October 2008) [Unreported]

Doogan M (2006) ‘Inquests and Inquiry into Four Deaths and Four Fires between 8 and 18 January 2003.’ (ACT Coroner’s Court: Canberra, ACT)

Eburn M (2010) ‘Emergency Law.’ 3rd edn. (The Federation Press: Sydney)

Ellis S (Chair) (2004) ‘Council of Australian Governments National Inquiry into Bushfire Mitigation and Management.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

Emergencies Act (2004) (ACT). Available at http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/2004-28/current/pdf/2004-28.pdf [Verified 26 November 2011]

Esmond J (2009) ‘Report on the Attraction, Support and Retention of Emergency Management Volunteers.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

Esplin B, Gill M, Enright N (2003) ‘Report of the Inquiry into the 2002–2003 Victorian Bushfires.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Fire and Emergency Act (1996) (NT). Available at http://notes.nt.gov.au/dcm/legislat/legislat.nsf/d989974724db65b1482561cf0017cbd2/fab6efed7c117576692578bf008028a3?OpenDocument [Verified 26 November 2011]

Fire and Emergency Service Act (2005) (SA). Available at http://www.legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/C/A/FIRE%20AND%20EMERGENCY%20SERVICES%20ACT%202005.aspx [Verified 26 November 2011]

Fire and Rescue Service Act (1990) (Qld). Available at http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/F/FireARescSeA90.pdf [Verified 26 November 2011]

Fire Brigades Act (1989) (NSW). Available at http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/view/inforce/act+192+1989+cd+0+N [Verified 26 November 2011]

Fire Service Act (1979) (Tas.). Available at http://www.thelaw.tas.gov.au/tocview/index.w3p;cond=;doc_id=35%2B%2B1979%2BAT%40EN%2B20111126210000;histon=;prompt=;rec=;term= [Verified 26 November 2011]

Forest and Rural Fires Act (1977) (NZ). Available at http://www.nzlii.org/nz/legis/consol_act/farfa1977231/ [Verified 26 November 2011]

Gardner v. Northern Territory (2003) Northern Territory Supreme Court 113. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1994/13.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Gardner v. Northern Territory (2004) Northern Territory Court of Appeal 14. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nt/NTCA/2004/14.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Goldman v. Hargrave (1966) 115 Commonwealth Law Reports 458. (Privy Council: Sydney)

Hargrave v. Goldman (1963) 110 Commonwealth Law Reports 40. (High Court of Australia) Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1963/56.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Havelberg v. Brown (1905) South Australian Law Reports 1. (Full Court, South Australian Supreme Court: Adelaide)

Heffernen B (Chair) (2010) ‘The Incidence of Bushfires across Australia.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

Hiatt JW (1996) ‘Recommendations from the New South Wales Inquiry into 1993/94 Fires.’ (NSW State Coroner’s Office: Sydney)

Hoover TL (2010) Office of the State Fire Service Marshal, Year in Review Report, 2010. Available at http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/fromthechief/pdf/OSFM_FIRELINE_Year_in_Review_2010.pdf [Verified 6 May 2011]

Hope AN (2009) ‘Record of Investigation into Death.’ (Government of Western Australia: Perth)

Johnstone G (2002) ‘Report of the Investigation and Inquests into a Wildfire and the Deaths of Five Firefighters at Linton on 2 December 1998.’ (State Coroner’s Office: Melbourne)

Keelty M (2011) ‘A Shared Responsibility: the Report of the Perth Hills Bushfire February 2011 Review.’ (Government of Western Australia: Perth)

Lobsey v. Care (1983) 1 Motor Vehicle Reports 1. (New South Wales Court of Appeal: Sydney)

Lucas-Smith v. Coroner’s Court of the ACT (2009) Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court 40. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/act/ACTSC/2009/40.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Matthews v. SPI Electricity & Utility Services Corporation (Number 1) (2011) Victoria Supreme Court 167. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VSC/2011/167.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

McLennan J, Birch A (2007) ‘CFA Report Number 1:2007: Survey of New Volunteers at Twelve Months: April–September 2005 Entry Cohorts – Revised.’ (Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre: Melbourne)

McLeod R (2003) ‘Inquiry into the Operational Response to the January 2003 Bushfires in the ACT.’ (Australian Capital Territory: Canberra, ACT)

Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act (1958) (Vic.). Available at http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/LTObject_Store/LTObjSt6.nsf/DDE300B846EED9C7CA257616000A3571/C0AF06D62E801879CA2578B1000686C4/$FILE/58-6315aa110%20authorised.pdf [Verified 26 November 2011]

Miller SI (Chair) (1984) ‘Report of the Bushfire Review Committee on Bushfire Preparedness in Victoria, Australia, following the Ash Wednesday Fires 16 February 1983.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Milton P (Chair) (1984) ‘Bushfires and the Australian Environment.’ (Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

Mortimer E, Bergin A, Carter R (2011) ‘Sharing Risk: Financing Australia’s Disaster Resilience.’ (Australian Strategic Policy Institute: Canberra, ACT)

Motor Accidents Compensation Act (1999) (NSW). Available at http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/2004-28/current/pdf/2004-28.pdf [Verified 26 November 2011]

Murray R, White K (1995) ‘State of Fire: a History of Volunteer Firefighting and the CFA in Victoria.’ (Hargreen Publishing Company: Melbourne)

Nairn G (Chair) (2003) ‘A Nation Charred: Inquiry into the Recent Australian Bushfires.’ (Parliament of Australia: Canberra, ACT)

New South Wales v. West (2008) Australian Capital Territory Court of Appeal 14. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/act/ACTCA/2008/14.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Orr A (2011) Insurers sue over fires. WA Today, 10 October 2011. Available at http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/insurers-sue-over-fires-20111009-1lfja.html [Verified 18 October 2011]

Pandazopoulos J (Chair) (2008) ‘Report on the Impact of Public Land Management Practices on Bushfires in Victoria.’(Parliament of Victoria: Melbourne)

Pearson DDR (2004) ‘Performance Examination: Responding to Major Bushfires.’ (Government of Western Australia: Perth)

Price J (Chair) (2002) ‘Report on the Inquiry into the 2001/2002 Bushfires.’ (Parliament of New South Wales: Sydney)

Rodger GJ (1961) ‘Report of the Royal Commission Appointed to Enquire into and Report upon the Bushfires of December 1960 and January, February and March 1961, Western Australia.’ (Government of Western Australia: Perth)

Rural Fire Service (2010) ‘NSW Rural Fire Service Annual Report 2009/10.’ (NSW Rural Fire Service: Sydney)

Rural Fire Service (2011) NSW Rural Fire Service. Available at http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/ [Verified 5 April 2011]

Schapel AE (2007) ‘Inquests into the Deaths of [9 Named People].’ (Government of South Australia: Adelaide)

Sermon v. Commissioner for Railways (WA) (1907) 5 Commonwealth Law Reports 239. (High Court of Australia) Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1907/61.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Stevenson J (2001) ‘Recommendations from the Inquiry into the Fire at Mt Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.’ (NSW State Coroner’s Office: Sydney)

Stretton LEB (1939) ‘Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into the Causes of and Measures Taken to Prevent the Bush Fires of January, 1939.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Taylor G (2011) Koperberg ‘aware’ of threat before 2003 firestorm. ABC Online. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/05/17/3218924.htm [Verified 5 July 2011]

Teague B, McLeod R, Pascoe S (2009a) ‘2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report 1.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Teague B, McLeod R, Pascoe S (2009b) ‘2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report 2; Priorities for Building in Bushfire-prone Areas.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Teague B, McLeod R, Pascoe S (2010) ‘2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Final Report.’ (Government of Victoria: Melbourne)

Vaughan v. Webb (1902) 2 State Reports (New South Wales) 293 (New South Wales Supreme Court: Sydney)

Warragamba Winery Pty Ltd v. New South Wales (2010) New South Wales Court of Appeal 174. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/NSWCA/2010/174.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

West v. New South Wales (2007) Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court 43. Available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/act/ACTSC/2007/43.html [Verified 26 November 2011]

Workers Compensation Act (1987) (NSW). Available at http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/view/inforce/act+70+1987+cd+0+N [Verified 26 November 2011]

Workers Compensation (Bush Fire, Emergency and Rescue Services) Act (1987) (NSW). Available at http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/maintop/view/inforce/act+83+1987+cd+0+N [Verified 26 November 2011]



Export Citation Cited By (1)

View Altmetrics