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: October 1, 2007

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