AMI & Lumley liable for Selwyn fire damage in 2013


In NZ Fire Service Commission & ors v Legg & ors [2016] NZHC 1492 the High Court (Nation J) considered a claim by the NZ Fire Service Commission and the Selwyn District Council to recover costs incurred in fighting a substantial fire in January 2013 that emanated from a burn heap of vegetation from the owners of the property (Leggs) and the landscaping business operated at the property (Evolving Landscapes Ltd).  Leggs sought indemnity for the claim from AMI and Evolving sought indemnity for the claim from Lumley.  The evidence was that that fire started in the burn heap that the Leggs/Evolving had ignited in mid December 2012 that they believed was extinguished then.  The Court held that Leggs/Evolving were liable for the costs of fire fighting.  It decided that Leggs/Evolving had not been reckless/grossly negligent in relation to the fire so the insurers could not rely on an exclusion cause about failing to take reasonable care.  It also decided that the evidence did not establish that the fire was caused by the landscaping business of Evolving, rather than the Leggs’ lifestyle block activities, so AMI was liable.  This fire damaged houses and businesses nearby, so this is probably not the end of the litigation.