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The mere fact that the fire occurred during harvesting and farming operations, on or around trucks or other equipment used in farming operation does not warrant an inference of negligence. Res ipsa loquitur does not apply where the occurrence alone, without more, rests on conjecture, or where the accident was just as reasonably attributable to other causes as to the negligence of the defendant. Courts are reluctant to draw an inference of negligence from the starting of fires because fires are frequent occurrences and, in many cases, resulted without negligence on the part of anyone.
Arthur Lamprecht and his wife, Linda Lamprecht, brought this action against Brent Schluntz and his brother, Gerald Schluntz, seeking compensation for property damage that the Lamprechts sustained from a fire that originated on Brent's farm during a wheat harvest. The Lamprechts' sole theory of recovery was premised on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The district court for Furnas County granted summary judgment in favor of the Schluntzes, and the Lamprechts now appeal.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment based on its conclusion that res ipsa loquitur did not apply?
The court held that the neighbors failed to show that the fire was an occurrence which did not, in the ordinary course of things, happen in the absence of negligence. In Nebraska, the mere occurrence of a fire, with resultant damage, did not raise a presumption of negligence, unless the circumstances under which a fire occurs justified the application of res ipsa loquitur. The mere fact that a fire started under a tractor did not lead to an inference that there was negligence. A statement in an affidavit under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-1334 (Reissue 2008) that fires did not start by farm equipment in the absence of negligence was a mere legal conclusion that was properly excluded.