John Munroe (Acrylics) Ltd v London Fire and Civil Defence Authority and Others

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Judgment Date15 April 1996

Queens Bench Division

Before Mr Justice Rougier

John Munroe (Acrylics) Ltd
and
London Fire and Civil Defence Authority and Others

Duty of care - fire brigade - public policy immunity

Fire brigade owe no actionable duty of care

No sufficient proximity or special relationship existed between a fire brigade and the owner of premises which might be on fire, such as to impose upon the fire brigade and vicariously, upon a fire authority, a duty at common law to respond to a call for assistance. Considerations of public policy militated against the imposition of such a duty.

Nor, merely by responding to an emergency call and visiting premises where a fire was burning, did the fire brigade put themselves into sufficient proximity to the building owner to impose a common law duty of care upon them, or assume a particular responsibility to those likely to be affected by the fire.

Mr Justice Rougier so held in a reserved judgment in the Queen's Bench Division, answering in the negative a preliminary issue of law, namely whether the first defendants, the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, owed any duty of care to the plaintiffs, John Munroe (Acrylics) Ltd, in respect of damage by fire to their industrial premises at Unit 69, Weir Road, Wimbledon, on March 27, 1991.

In the same action the plaintiffs also sued the second and third defendants, Any Effects Ltd, in liquidation, and Thomas Charles Harris, trading as Any Effects.

Mr Ronald Walker, QC and Mr Toby Hooper for the plaintiffs; Mr Michael de Navarro, QC, Mr Graham Eklund and Miss Jennifer Gray for the fire authority; the second and third defendants did not appear and were not represented.

MR JUSTICE ROUGIER said that for the purpose of the preliminary hearing the agreed facts were that the second and third defendants deliberately caused an explosion on wasteland not far from the plaintiffs' premises, scattering a shower of flaming debris over a fairly wide area. Small fires started separated by quite substantial distances, debris fell on to the plaintiffs' premises and smoke came from a corner of the yard.

Four fire engines arrived in response to emergency calls, by which time the second defendants' staff had extinguished the burning debris and the fires on the wasteland and there was no visible evidence of any continuing conflagration.

Having looked around, the fire crews took the view that the fires were out and the danger had passed and left. They did not inspect Unit 69 which abutted...

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