Bush fire in Western Australia sets off liability dispute

Date: Jan 01, 2020

Several farmers in rural Western Australia are upset that the state government will not be held financially liable for a bush fire that left over 1 million dollars in uncovered damages, according to reports from ABC News. The fire started on the Lewana Plantation, a pine plantation run by Western Australia’s Forest Products Commission.

In all, 3,300 hectares of land burned from the fire. Crops at nearby farmland were also made unusable by smoke taint.

Figuring out liability

Officials at the Forest Products Commission claim that they are not liable to pay for damages reported by the 10 farmers who submitted claims to them because the fire was started by an independent harvesting contractor’s machinery. The government’s insurer, Risk Cover, agreed with the Forest Products Commission’s assessment and absolved them of responsibility.

In an unfortunate turn for the farmers, the involved contractor, Total Harvesting, is also denying liability.

While the exact event that caused the fire is still unclear, an investigation by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services determined that the fire was most likely the result of a mishap with heavy machinery. A letter from Risk Cover that was viewed by ABC News cast blame on an excavator being run by Total Harvesting that hit granite rocks.

While many of the affected landowners were able to have some of their damages covered by insurance, many found that they still had thousands of dollars left to pay. One farmer, whose blue-gum plantation lost 80,000 dollars in value as a result of the fire, claimed that it was the second fire at the state’s plantation that had caused damage to its neighbours. The Lewana Plantation says that it is taking additional steps towards fire mitigation.

A growing problem

Bush fires have become an increasingly common issue throughout Australia in the past few years. According to the Guardian, much of Western Australia has seen the highest cumulative fire danger index (FFDI) ratings since records began in 1950. In New South Wales, 1.65 million hectares of land have burned this year. Experts are pointing to a combination of high temperatures, low rainfall, and the resulting low moisture as likely reasons for the fires.

As fires continue to cause damage across the country, more cases settling liability will come before the courts. At Gerard Malouf & Partners, we have a dedicated team that is ready to fight for you if you are in need of public liability justice.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.