Justice After Thirteen Years for Little Girl Horrifically Scarred in Farm House Fire on the Central Coast

Published 08 Mar 2018

AC was very young when he followed his parents to a farm when his father accepted a position as a farm hand. They had only been at the farm house provided to them for about two weeks. During that time light globes kept popping. The residence was as one would expect from a farm house. It was far from luxurious. AC and his sister shared a room with a bunk bed. The premises did not have smoke alarms.

On the night of the incident in 2001, because the light globes kept on popping the mother had left a tea light in the children’s room at about 9:00pm. At about 5:00am, the family was woken up by horrific screams of pain and terror from AC. The mother opened the children’s room first. She described blue green flames running up the wall where the fuse box was.

AC with his sister was taken out of the house. By this time AC had already sustained serious burns to his body.

As one would expect the young boy underwent emergency burn treatment and surgery. The fire was so intense that the entire farmhouse and all of the family’s possessions were destroyed.

In 2001, Gerard Malouf and Partners were not the family’s first choice for a solicitor. AC’s grandmother had made arrangements for his legal representation at the time. It is alleged that she also sought the generosity of the Central Coast community collecting donations for AC. It is unfortunate that AC never saw a cent of the donations.

Although this case even then would be described as difficult due to the intensity of the flames destroying the evidence, the then solicitors and barristers virtually gave up on AC, advising him that he can pursue his claim when he attains the age of eighteen. Very little evidence was retained, in particular the fuse box, where it is alleged to be the origin of the fire.

When AC, who at the time of his enquiry resided in Armidale called to enquire of his rights with Gerard Malouf and Partners, his story captured our hearts. Despite knowing the difficulties involved in the case we gave him a commitment to leave no stone unturned. A team of solicitors, clerks and staff devoted themselves to systematic enquiries of witnesses, police, firefighters, neighbouring farmers and the real estate agent. Each witness provided little clues as to what happened on that fateful night.

The diligent investigative work by Gerard Malouf and Partners were able to provide an expert electrical engineer with sufficient evidence to provide an opinion on the balance of probabilities that the fire had originated from the fuse box.

The matter proceeded through the normal Court processes and procedures.  But there were no offers from the Defendant. To press the matter forward, orders were sought of the Supreme Court of NSW for the matter to proceed to a mediation.

Throughout the course of the case we had always believed that the main problem that we had was an admission from the mother that she had left a naked flame in the room.

Just two days before the mediation we were served with the defendant’s expert report. To our surprise, the report stated unequivocally that the tea light was not the source of the fire, owing to it being lit hours before the ensuing flame.

At the conference prior to mediation, counsel and senior counsel retained in the matter voiced their opinion as to liability and quantum. Their opinions were considerably low. GMP however were not swayed by these opinions and gave instructions to commence negotiations as high as possible.

The matter ultimately resolved for a significant amount.  A fantastic result, and suitable resolution for a young boy who has suffered for 16 years.