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Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Civil Liability – Part 54

July 13, 2020 12:44 pm

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 53, LWF discussed the assessment of fire safety risk in houses in multiple occupation. In part 54, we begin to look at civil liability in respect of loss or injury as a result of fire.

Civil liability for loss or injury from a fire is more commonly seen in recent years, due to the increasing awareness of the potential for litigation. Both owners and occupiers of a property can be liable in varying circumstances. Civil liability differs from criminal liability in that claims are pursued through the county courts and, if the case is found for the plaintiff, the settlement will be financial.

The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984 lays out the potential liability in relation to visitors to the premises. In the case of Ogwo v Taylor [1988], a firefighter successfully sued an occupier who had negligently undertaken DIY using a blowtorch and caused a fire which had to be dealt with by the Fire Service. The firefighter was injured in carrying out his duties and his case was upheld.

The key is that the occupier was found to be negligent. If the fire had started accidentally, due to a wiring fault for example, the occupier would probably not have been liable.

The Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774, which is incredibly still in force, states that ‘No action suit or process whatsoever shall be had, maintained or prosecuted against any person in whose house, chamber, stable, barn, or other building, or on whose estate any fire shall accidentally begin’.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland make provision for civil action by employees for damage caused by a breach of duty imposed on the employer by the Order. It should be noted that these rights only apply to employees and not to persons who are not. The right given in the Order overrides any limitations to the extent that would apply under the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act. In a nutshell, it means that employees can take a civil action against an employer for a breach of duty which may have included preventative measures. Whether a fire is accidental or not, measures should be put into place to protect employees from harm in the workplace from fire.

Non-employees rights are those conferred by common law and the Occupiers’ Liability Acts.

In part 55, LWF will discuss the nature of fire. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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