On 9 February 2019, Mr and Mrs Ryan ('Defendants') hosted a 21st birthday party for their son at their rural property, located west of Toowoomba. The Plaintiff was an attendee, along with 40-50 mature guests, and over 100 younger persons around age 21.
Crow J accepted that the Defendants put a lot of thought into the party and how they ensured the safety of all guests, particularly intoxicated guests.
At dusk, Mr Ryan drove to an adjacent property to fill 45L of fuel into three jerry cans. The fuel was then brought back, and the generator was fed, nearly emptying a can.
At 11:00pm, a grassfire started nearby, which was ultimately quashed by Mr Ryan's use of a fire extinguisher. While doing so, Mr Ryan smelt fuel at the scene of the fire, and it was plain to him that this had come from the remnants of the used jerry can. Noticing this, the birthday boy moved, and placed the used can inside a terracotta pot, one metre into the shed, adjacent to their homestead. Enlivened to the fire risk posed by the remaining two cans, Mr Ryan moved these to the back of the shed. Mr Ryan presumed the can moved by his son was empty.
At midnight, a group of attendees noticed that the Plaintiff had absented himself from the party. The group, which included Mr Taylor ('Third Party'), then sought out the Plaintiff.
Inspired by the earlier grassfire, Mr Taylor ventured to the shed to obtain some fuel, with the intention that he would, "… wake him [the Plaintiff] up via lighting his swag on fire." Mr Taylor did not know that there was fuel in the shed, this was merely a presumption.
After the group approached the sleeping Plaintiff, Mr Taylor dribbled fuel on the Plaintiff's clothing and ignited it with a lighter. A horrific scene followed, with the Plaintiff being unable to remove his enflamed shirt. As a result, the Plaintiff suffered burns to the upper right side of his body.
The Defendant's duty of care was not limited to that of an occupier, but also as the party who made available the source of fuel, and an unlimited amount of alcohol to attendees who were observed to be acting irrationally.
The Defendants were aware of the risk posed by the accessibility of the fuel, exhibited by their failed attempts to remove the fuel source. Crow J considered that the sheer stupidity of lighting a fire at a party would perhaps be insignificant. However, in light of the earlier grassfire, the idea was planted in the mind of Mr Taylor. It follows that the Defendants exposed the Plaintiff to a risk of injury that was foreseeable and not insignificant; that risk being that of a person suffering a burn injury from an uncontrolled fire lit by an intoxicated guest from petrol made available by the Defendants.
Crow J determined there was a very low burden in taking precautions, on the background the seriousness of harm that could be suffered from a fire, and factors mentioned above.
Scope of liability was contentious, however, it was decided that had the group not been intoxicated, on balance, the actions of Mr Taylor would not have occurred, and that his intoxication was as a direct result of the Defendant's supply.
Liability was found for the Plaintiff.
Judgement of $600,797.55 was entered against the Defendants.
Crow J considered that Mr Taylor must bear the bulk of apportionment as he engaged in a reckless and criminal act fuelled by his state of intoxication. Considering the Defendants introduced the fuel, provided a lot of alcohol, and then failed to remove the fuel, apportionment was made on a 70 / 30% basis.
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We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Joshua Nash (Solicitor) to this article.