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Musgrove v Pandelis [1919] 2 KB 43

Escape of fire, accidental versus negligent fire

Facts

The Claimant rented rooms above a domestic garage in which the Defendant kept a car. The Defendant’s employee (his chauffeur) was instructed to clean the car and attempted to move it in order to carry out that instruction. In order to do so, he turned on the petrol tap as to facilitate the petrol flow from the tank to the carburettor. He then started the engine. However, there was an explosion and the car caught fire, specifically the carburettor. It was found by the court that if the Defendant’s employee had not panicked and had instead immediately turned off the tap, the petrol would have stopped flowing to the carburettor and the fire would have died out quickly. He did panic however and wasted time looking for a cloth, which meant that by the time he decided to turn off the tap it was not possible to contain the fire. The fire spread to the rest of the car and from there to the garage and eventually to the whole building, which destroyed the whole building. The claimant’s property above the garage was also destroyed, including his furniture.

Issue

The issues in this case were whether the car constituted a dangerous thing for the purposes of Rylands v Fletcher, whether what had been done constituted non-natural use of the land for the same purposes and whether the Defendant could rely on s.86 of the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774 which stipulated that a person will not be liable (without more) for damage caused by a fire which he started accidently.

Held

It was held first that s.86 of the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774 did not apply as this was a case under the rule in Rylands v Fletcherand in any event the fire was not accidental but rather due to negligence. The court held further that the car with the petrol tank was a dangerous thing for the purposes of Rylands v Fletcher and therefore found liability, inter alia, because the fundamental principle was held to be that the Defendant should not use his property in such a way as to injure his neighbour.


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