Tyre fire courts controversy on who pays the bill

Commercial property owners and tenants reminded to keep up with insurance obligations following the ruling of The Court of Appeal in the case of Wyvern Tyres, where a fire spread next door, with judges saying the company is not liable for damage to adjoining premises
Commercial property owners and tenants are being urged to check their insurance obligations following a Court of Appeal ruling which refused a compensation pay out when fire had spread to neighbouring premises.
Last month the Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Stannard (t/a Wyvern Tyres) v Gore that a tyre-supply company was not liable to the owner of the adjoining premises when a fire broke out and destroyed both units.
The tyre supply company stored about 3,000 tyres on its premises and when an electrical fault started a fire, the tyres were soon blazing and it was impossible to put the fire out, soon spreading to the adjacent unit.
It is a basic legal principle that a person cannot be liable for damage caused to another unless they intended to cause the damage or have been negligent. In this case there was no suggestion of negligence on the part of the tyre company, but when the case was first heard in the county court, the tyre company was found liable under a long-standing rule known as Rylands v Fletcher.
This was a 19th century case in which a reservoir that had been constructed for Rylands burst through some old shafts and flooded a coal mine owned by Fletcher. There was no negligence on the part of Mr Rylands but the House of Lords held that a person could be liable without any fault on their part if he brings an exceptionally dangerous thing onto his property, the use of the property is unusual, and the dangerous thing escapes and damages other property.
When Wyvern Tyres challenged the first decision, the case ended up in the Court of Appeal where the County Court ruling was overturned. The judges said that the conditions for liability under Rylands v Fletcher were not fulfilled: no one would describe tyres as exceptionally dangerous, and the thing that escaped and caused damage to the neighbour was the fire, not the tyres, and the fire had not been brought onto Mr Stannard’s land.
According to Brendan O'Brien, commercial expert with Hertfordshire based firm Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP, the ruling in this latest case comes as no surprise.
He explained: “The rule in Rylands v Fletcher has always been controversial. Legal academics criticise it because the idea of liability without fault is anathema. And back in the 19th century it was heavily criticised as putting a brake on enterprise and wealth creation.
“We are more used to risk-assessment obligations nowadays, and the lesson from environmental disasters over the last fifty years is that companies storing dangerous materials, whether it is a slag heap, a chemical factory or a nuclear plant, must accept their responsibilities and pay the price if they get it wrong.
“We are also more litigious and there’s a greater expectation of a result if you take action against someone. But the courts prefer to leave it to Parliament to dictate sanctions through environmental legislation and have resolutely refused to expand the rule in Rylands v Fletcher beyond its narrow limits, so it’s not surprising the Court of Appeal overturned the County Court ruling in this case.”
He added: “What’s important is that commercial owners and tenants realise they’re not going to be able to blame someone else in this sort of situation, and make sure their insurance is robust and meets all their obligations for property, plant and machinery right through to business interruption.”
Rylands v Fletcher 1868 UKHL
Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 1 All ER 53
Stannard (t/a Wyvern Tyres) v Gore [2012] EWCA Civ 1248
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Buyers and sellers can help reduce chance of home-sale collapse, says Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP

The chances of a home sale falling through can be reduced if buyers and sellers act early, says Breeze and Wyles Solicitors LLP
When a sale or purchase falls through both the buyer’s and the seller’s time and money can be wasted. Breeze & Wyles in Bishops Stortford, Enfield, and Hertford, which is an accredited member of the national Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS), says that buyers and sellers can help themselves to reduce the chances of a sale falling through.
John Appleton, Director and Head of Residential Conveyancing says: “Sellers in particular can act early to prevent delays later on in the sale. This can be a major contributing factor towards a sale falling through. It pays to get a CQS solicitor involved as early as possible, even before a buyer has been found. They will then be able to look at the title to make sure that everything is up-to-date and help the sellers make sure that all their paperwork is in order, particularly planning permissions and building regulation consents.
"Sellers sometimes think that if everything is not in order the buyers will be prepared to go ahead anyway but often forget that the buyer’s mortgage lender will require all the boxes to be ticked. This may include making sure that all the Competent Person Certificates, for example, of the installation of windows or a boiler, are available.
“If your transaction is part of a chain, missing documentation for one can mean disappointment for many other people, not just the next person in the chain. Involving a CQS solicitor early may help to guard against that.”
Breeze and Wyles which went through a rigorous application and assessment to become a CQS accredited law firm, is happy to help advise sellers and buyers early on in the process. The sooner you take advice the better the chance is that your transaction will proceed. Solicitors can advise on all parts of the process and will also be in a position to recommend other professionals in the process, brokers and surveyors, who will be able to assist.
“We are delighted to be associated with the CQS, a recognisable brand where clients can know that they are getting good advice.”
Enfield Office: john.appleton@breezeandwyles.co.uk – 0208 366 6411
Hertford Office: andrew.moore@breezeandwyles.co.uk – 01992 558 411
Bishop's Stortford: adrian.toulson@breezeandwyles.co.uk - 01279 715333
For more information on the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme visit www.lawsociety.org.uk/cqs