Govt says it has no duty to stop fires

Govt says it has no duty to stop fires

03 March 2010

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Australia —  The ACT Government had no duty of care to the Canberrans who were killed, injured or left homeless by the city’s 2003 bushfires, the ACT Supreme Court was told yesterday.

The Government’s barrister, Peter Garling, SC, told the second day of the hearings that there was no legal duty of care to control fuel load or maintain fire tracks, no legal duty to fight the fires once they broke out and no duty to warn residents in the path of the blaze that they were in danger.

The court is hearing an action by more than 600 plaintiffs who are suing the ACT and NSW governments for more than $100 million, alleging that the state and territory were negligent in their actions before and during the fire event and are liable for the deaths, injuries and property damage caused by the blazes.

The ACT Government denies that it was negligent in failing to prepare for the firestorm that swept into the city’s south on January 18, 2003, that it was inept in fighting the blaze and that it did not issue adequate warnings.

After hearing opening addresses yesterday and on Monday from barristers representing ACT and NSW residents and from counsel for insurance giant QBE, Mr Garling told Chief Justice Terence Higgins that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that the Government failed in its duty or that it even had a duty to the plaintiffs.

”The law does not impose on any government an obligation to warn its citizens of a natural event that is occurring or is likely to occur,” he told the Chief Justice.

He is also challenging the plaintiffs’ assertion that firefighting commanders did not do all they could to fight the fires and disputed a claim the fire that ravaged Duffy, Chapman and Kambah was an amalgam of four fires.

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