Publications and News

Harvesting a Burning Liability

4 October 2017

It’s the perfect week to bring an end to harvest and beat your neighbour to the pub. The day seems warm but you check the wind, temperature and humidity against the new Rural Fire Services (RFS) sticker and decide to take on the last block. It’s risky but the discretion is now in your hands thanks to the NSW RFS bringing an end to the cease harvest direction, so you decide to get the job done.It’s almost lunch; you pull out your sandwich and suddenly smell smoke. Your hunger immediately vanishes as your stomach drops. You turn around to see your new header up in flames and become more alarmed to realise that you are a paddock away from your neighbour’s best yielding crop…

Are you liable for the crop loss?

If the court confirms your actions fall in line with the principles of ordinary negligence, yes.

Section 63(2) of the Rural Fires Act 1997 states:

(2) It is the duty of the owner or occupier of land to take the notified steps (if any) and any other practicable steps to prevent the occurrence of bush fires on, and to minimise the danger of the spread of bush fires on or from, that land.

In the case of Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd (1994) 179 CLR 520, [67], the High Court of Australia affirmed “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 foreseeable risk of injury or damage to the person or property of another.”

If you make the wrong decision, you may be liable to your neighbour in negligence. With the recent changes and introduction of the NSW Grain Harvesting Guide, ensure you are aware of the steps to take and that your insurance documents are thoroughly reviewed by your lawyer to guarantee that the appropriate cover has been taken out.

Note: Farmers can obtain a free guide from RFS offices to assist in determining if it is safe to harvest.

Author: Constance Campbell

This article is general information only and should not be relied on without obtaining further specific information.

Constance Campbell Lawyer

Constance joined JMA Legal in our Sydney office in 2016 and graduated with a Bachelor of Criminology and Laws in the same year. Constance works cl.. Learn more about Constance Campbell

Click here to contact Constance Campbell.