Damages At Issue in Pasture Burn Case

August 26, 2012 | Roger McEowen

Pasture burning is an important grass management tool in the Flint Hills of Kansas and elsewhere. Done properly, it can provide significant benefits for ranchers. But if conducted improperly, damages from an out-of-control fire can be significant. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has developed regulations that must be followed when conducting a controlled burn in Kansas, while following the regulations is not a guarantee that problems won't arise when conducting a controlled burn, if they are followed and problems arise, that can be an important factor on the liability issue. Importantly, pasture burning in Kansas is not a strict liability tort - liability is handled under negligence principles. Indeed, the Kansas Court of Appeals has stated, "In Kansas, farmers and ranchers have a right to set controlled fires on their property for agricultural purposes and will not be liable for damages resulting if the fire is set and managed with ordinary care and prudence, depending on the conditions present."

But, if damages result as the result of negligence associated with a controlled burn, how are those damages to be computed? A recent Kansas case answers that question.

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