Are Landowners Liable for Fires Caused by Third Parties?

In our previous blog, we discussed snow removal liability and the ongoing storm doctrine in New Jersey. This time we will cover the opposite end of the spectrum: fire. As news headlines report on fires started by third parties that have resulted in serious damage, landowners might think they cannot be held liable if a trespasser starts a fire on their property. Think again.

The New Jersey Supreme Court previously held that a landowner “may be liable for a fire started by a third party on his property if that property was kept in an unsafe and dangerous condition and the landowner did not take reasonable precautions to prevent the start or spread of the fire.” Scully v. Fitzgerald, 179 N.J. 114 (2004). Dangerous and unsafe conditions are akin to a tinderbox. Generally, a tinderbox means an accumulation of flammable materials, such as debris, excess leaves, fire accelerants like oils and gasses, among others.

 As noted by the Court, certain dangerous conditions that create the foreseeable risk of fire are often a matter of common sense. Here are some tips to maintain your property to reduce the chances of a catastrophic fire:

  • Keep up on seasonal maintenance
  • Remove all rubbish and debris
  • Do not store flammable materials near structures
  • Provide a designated smoking area with proper cigarette disposal mechanisms
  • Equip the property with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
  • Regularly inspect the property
  • Properly store equipment and other large items when not in use
  • Have security measures in place to prevent potential arson

If you have questions regarding fire loss on your property in New Jersey, please contact Joseph V. Leone, Esq. at jleone@hoaglandlongo.com or Joshua A. Filzer, Esq. at jfilzer@hoaglandlongo.com.