Could I be liable if I left a candle burning at my friend's house and the house burned down as a result?

Question Details: I was left in a friend's room with a candle burning while he ran an errand. He took a lot longer to return than intended and didn't tell me to put the candle out. It wasn't in a safe holder. I later left the room, with the candle still burning. The house subsequently caught fire and burned down. Am I liable?

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Answers by Lawyers

Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

Yes, it is possible that you could be held liable. However, you should not admit liability until you have spoken fully with your insurer or a lawyer. If you have contents insurance, you may have cover. Check your policy for "public liability" insurance. If you might be covered, you should contact your insurer immediately for advice about the next steps. Your insurance policy will also cover your legal costs, in case legal proceedings are taken against you in court.

If you do not have insurance (or if your insurance doesn't cover you for some reason), whether you are liable will depend on whether or not have acted negligently. Where you leave something that is potentially dangerous unattended, like a candle, you risk being held responsible for any resulting damage. Once you were the only person in the room, it was up to you to ensure that the candle was put out.

If the homeowner (or their insurer) has suggested that they consider you are liable, we would recommend getting legal advice. Community Law Centres can provide some initial guidance, recommend lawyers, and advise on whether you are eligible for Legal Aid. A list of Community Law Centres is available at the following link: www.communitylaw.org.nz.

More information regarding Legal Aid can be found at the following link: www.justice.govt.nz.

Answered 9 Sep 2013. The IMPORTANT NOTICE below is part of this answer.

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