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Common Law Liability for Landowners When Using Prescribed Fires on Private Forest Land in the Southern United States

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The potential liability associated with escaped fires has been a widespread concern to forest landowners when using prescribed fires on private forestland. In this study, common law for prescribed fires on forestland in the 13 southern states was analyzed by examining published legal cases. A thorough search on the legal database of Westlaw generated a list of 27 cases at the state appellate courts. Major characteristics of these cases were summarized by features such as state, year, ownership type, and liability of landowner. Furthermore, these cases were analyzed under three focus areas: negligence rules, strict liability, and vicarious liability. Overall, the standard of care associated with the reasonable prudent person has been required for the intentional use of fire on forestland with a lawful purpose. In the past, gross negligence rule and strict liability have not been applied in the South. Vicarious liability may become a chief concern for forest landowners in the future.

Keywords: independent contractor; negligence; prescribed burning; strict liability; vicarious liability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-10-01

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2015 Impact Factor: 1.702
    Ranking: 16 of 66 in forestry

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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