SOUTH-WEST residents have been warned they could be held legally responsible if their poorly-maintained vehicles or farm equipment spark fires following this week’s Snake Valley grassfire.
Principal lawyer from Slater and Gordon, Dan McGlade, said reports that the blaze which destroyed at least nine homes was caused by a spark from a vehicle driving through dry vegetation highlighted the potential for defective machinery to cause fires.
“Regardless of whether these suggestions are proven correct, it is timely as we head into the hottest weeks of summer to remind people of the potential impact of operating equipment not fitted with spark arrestors or that have defective exhaust systems in dry rural environments,” he said.
Anyone found to have accidentally started a fire in such circumstances could be sued for negligence under common law and be forced to compensate victims, he said.
“These events invariably come at a very high cost to local communities and people need to know that if their negligence is responsible for a fire, they can be held responsible.”
Mr McGlade’s warning comes 14 months after electricity provider Powercor settled a $40 million class action brought by Black Saturday victims in the Horsham district, where a live powerline fell into grassland and started a fire that destroyed local properties. In December, a settlement was reached with Powercor agreeing to pay full damages to those who suffered as a result of the Weerite and Pomborneit Black Saturday fire.
Under the settlement, Powercor will be required to pay victims 100 per cent of the losses they incurred as a result of the fire, estimated to be worth about $10 million.
Mr McGlade said it was important that everyone, particularly those in rural communities, learnt from these events