Musgrove v Pandelis: CA 2 Jan 1919

The plaintiff ((M) rented first floor rooms above the defendant’s garage. The defendant’s employee spilt petrol which was lit, and negligently failed to control it causing a fire, damaging the plaintiff’s rooms.
Held: The Act did not provide a defence if the fire started accidentally but was then continued and not extinguished by the negligence of the householder.
Bankes LJ set out of the common law before liability for fire was restricted by statute, saying: ‘A man was liable at common law for damage done by fire originating on his own property (1) for the mere escape of the fire; (2) if the fire was caused by the negligence of himself or his servants, or by his own wilful act; (3) upon the principle of Rylands v Fletcher. This principle was not then known by that name, because Rylands v Fletcher was not then decided; but it was an existing principle of the common law as I shall show presently.’ Filliter v Phippard had decided that a fire negligently begun was not protected by the statute; and asked: ‘Why, if that is the law as to the second head of liability, should it be otherwise as to the third head, the liability on the principle of Rylands v Fletcher? If that liability existed, there is no reason why the statute should alter it and yet leave untouched the liability for fire caused by negligence or design. That the principle of Rylands v Fletcher existed long before that case was decided is plain. In Vaughan v Menlove Tindal CJ says: ‘There is a rule of law which says you must so enjoy your own property as not to injure that of another.’ Park J says: ‘Although the facts in this case are new in specie, they fall within a principle long established, that a man must so use his own property as not to injure that of others.’ Rylands v Fletcher is merely an illustration of that old principle, and in my opinion Lush J was right in saying that this case, if it falls within that principle, is not within the protection of the statute.’
Warrington LJ approved the comment of Lush J at first instance: ‘If this motor car with the petrol in its tank was potentially dangerous, such as a man’s own fire, then it was the defendant’s duty to see that the potential danger did not become an actual danger causing damage to his neighbour. The Act of Geo. 3 is no protection against that liability.’
Duke LJ used different reasoning. Although he applied Rylands v Fletcher applied, he went on to consider whether the fire was accidental for the purposes of section 86. He said: ‘I do not see how this case can be taken out of the principle of Rylands v Fletcher, which was thus stated by Lord Cairns LC in the very words of Blackburn J: ‘The true rule of law is, that the person who, for his own purposes, brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril.’ He can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiff’s default or perhaps that it was the consequence of vis major or the act of God. In the present case there was petrol which was easily convertible into an inflammable vapour; there was the apparatus for producing a spark; and added to those there was a person supposed to control the combustion but inexperienced and unequal to the task. Taking together the presence of the petrol, and the production of the inflammable gas, or those combustibles together with the inexperience of the person placed in charge of them, it is impossible to say that this is not an instance of the principle laid down by Blackburn J.’
. . ‘That would dispose of this case but for the defendant’s contention that he is excused by s. 86 of the Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act, 1774. In my opinion the terms of that enactment fall far short of showing a definite intention to relieve a defendant in such a case as this. The actions against which the statute gives protection are in respect of fires which shall accidentally begin. I have the greatest doubt whether this fire began accidentally at any stage. If it was all one fire, it was begun not accidentally but intentionally. If progressive stages may be regarded it was not a fire which began accidentally without negligence at the stage when it became a conflagration involving goods and premises. The question may some day be discussed whether a fire, spreading from a domestic hearth, accidentally begins within the meaning of the Act, if such a fire should extend so as to involve the destruction of property or premises. I do not covet the task of the advocate who has to contend that it does. In the present case the fire, so far as it was a means of mischief, resulted from the negligent omission to turn off the petrol tap, an act which would have stopped the flow of petrol. All the witnesses who had any experience of such matters drew a distinction between fire in a carburettor, where the vapour can be instantly out off, and such a fire as occurred in this case. The learned judge has found that this fire was due to negligence. I cannot disagree with him. Whatever may be the effect of the Act of Geo. 3 upon the nice questions that have been discussed, this case is outside any possible protection of that statute.’
Bankes LJ, Warrington LJ, Duke LJ
[1919] 2 KB 43
Fires Prevention (Metropolis) Act 1774
England and Wales
Appeal fromMusgrove v Pandelis 1919
Mr Musgrove rented rooms above a domestic garage, in which Mr Pandelis kept a car. Mr Pandelis sent his chauffeur, Mr Coumis, to clean the car. Mr Coumis had to move the car within the garage. For that purpose he went to the bonnet and turned on the . .
CitedVaughan v Menlove 1837
The defendant had been advised of the probable consequences of allowing a stack of damp hay, which he had erected without proper ventilation, to remain in this condition. Subsequently the hay spontaneously ignited damaging the plaintiff’s house. At . .
CitedRylands v Fletcher HL 1868
The defendant had constructed a reservoir to supply water to his mill. Water escaped into nearby disused mineshafts, and in turn flooded the plaintiff’s mine. The defendant appealed a finding that he was liable in damages.
Held: The defendant . .
CitedFilliter v Phippard 9-Dec-1847
Lord Denman CJ considered a 1707 Act restricting liability for fire damage: ‘The Act contemplates the probability of fires in cities and towns arising from three causes, the want of water, the imperfection of party walls, and the negligence of . .

Cited by:
CitedTransco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council HL 19-Nov-2003
Rylands does not apply to Statutory Works
The claimant laid a large gas main through an embankment. A large water supply pipe nearby broke, and very substantial volumes of water escaped, causing the embankment to slip, and the gas main to fracture.
Held: The rule in Rylands v Fletcher . .
CitedLMS International Ltd and others v Styrene Packaging and Insulation Ltd and others TCC 30-Sep-2005
The claimants sought damages after their premises were destroyed when a fire started in the defendants neighbouring premises which contained substantial volumes of styrofoam. They alleged this was an unnatural use of the land.
Held: To . .
Wrong in partStannard (T/A Wyvern Tyres) v Gore CA 4-Oct-2012
The defendant, now appellant, ran a business involving the storage of tyres. The claimant neighbour’s own business next door was severely damaged in a fire of the tyres escaping onto his property. The court had found him liable in strict liability . .
CitedJob Edwards Ltd v Birmingham Navigations Proprietors CA 1924
Land next to the canal was used for the deposit of refuse by trespassers. The mound spread until, for a fee, it was dumped also across the canal. It caught fire, and the fire spread toward the canal. By agreement the parties got together to put out . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 07 July 2021; Ref: scu.188044