The Info List - Burnie Port Authority V General Jones Pty Ltd

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Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd,[1] is a tort law case from the High Court of Australia, which decided it would abolish the rule in Rylands v Fletcher,[2] and the ignis suus principle, incorporating them generally into the tort of negligence.


1 Background

1.1 Facts 1.2 Prior proceedings

2 High Court Judgment 3 See also 4 References

Background[edit] Facts[edit] A fire, caused by an independent contractor’s employee welding negligently, began on the defendant’s premises and spread to a nearby property. The property was burnt causing A$2.5M of damages. The plaintiff sued under ignis suus, nuisance, negligence and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher (a rule of absolute liability),[2] interpreted in part through the duty of occupier to invitee. The defendant was Burnie Port Authority (Burnie), located in Burnie Tasmania, who provided storage facilities, and the plaintiff was General Jones who stored a large quantity of frozen vegetables. General Jones suffered damage when the vegetables were ruined by fire which destroyed Burnie property. Prior proceedings[edit]

Supreme Court of Tasmania: found for the plaintiff against the defendant on the grounds of the ignis suus rule. Other defendants were the contracting firm who did the welding as part of expanding coolroom capacity, and the manufacturers of Isolite, the highly flammable insulating material, which was set alight by welding sparks, and which produces noxious gases.[3] Defendant appealed to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania: found for the plaintiff on the basis of Rylands v Fletcher principle.[2] The grounds of nuisance and negligence were not appealed.[4] Appealed to the High Court of Australia

High Court Judgment[edit] The High Court held that Rylands involved ‘quite unacceptable uncertainty’.[1]:p 540 It said that Blackburn J’s formulation had been ‘all but obliterated by subsequent judicial explanations and qualifications’.[1]:p 536 And at the time of Rylands,[2] negligence liability was limited to ‘a miscellany of disparate categories of cases’ and only with Heaven v Pender[5] and Donoghue v Stevenson,[6] was liability grounded on general foreseeability.[1]:p 543 The justices therefore felt that the rule should be done away with and so the independent contractor was not liable under that, but could only be culpable in the law of negligence. HCA Held: The appeal by Burnie was dismissed. Burnie, by allowing its contractor to introduce dangerous substances and activities on site, owed a duty of care to Jones to take reasonable steps to prevent fire, and the breach created liability under the normal rules of negligence. The joint judgment stated "The rule in Rylands v Fletcher, with all its difficulties, uncertainties, qualifications, and exceptions, should now be seen ... as absorbed by the rules of ordinary negligence. Under those principles, a person who takes advantage of his or her control of premises to introduce a dangerous substance, to carry on a dangerous activity, or to allow another to do one of those things, owes a duty of reasonable care to avoid a reasonably foreseeble risk of injury or damage to the person or the property of another."[1]:pp 556-7 The ignis suus (his or her fire) rule was held to be ancient common law that was modified by statute in the UK, but never became law in Australia. Damages in the tort of nuisance were not pleaded in the HCA. See also[edit]

Transco plc v Stockport MBC


^ a b c d e Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd [1994] HCA 13, (1994) 179 CLR 520 (24 March 1994), High Court. ^ a b c d Rylands v Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1, (1868) LR 3 HL 330 (17 July 1868), House of Lords (UK). ^ General Jones Pty Ltd v Wildridge & Sinclair Pty Ltd and Burnie Port Authority [1989] TASSC 74 (19 December 1989), Supreme Court (Tas). ^ Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd [1991] TASRp 15, [1991] Tas R 203 (11 September 1991), Supreme Court (Tas) (Full Court). ^ Heaven v Pender (1883) 11 QBD 503. ^ Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100, [1932] AC 562 (26 May 1932), Ho