Rylands v Fletcher, Facts, Decision, Requirements, Defences

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This case is concerned with nuisance in tort law

What is Rylands v Fletcher

As the law of nuisance has occasionally been applied to isolated events causing damage to neighbour’s property. It was argued earlier that in such cases liability is more  properly to be founded on the law of negligence rather than nuisance.

However an exception must be made for these cases falling within the ambit of the rule in rylands v fletcher. Where there has been an escape of a dangerous thing in the course of a non-natural use of land, the occupier is liable for damage to another as a result of the escape.

This is so irrespective of whether the occupier has been at fault (i.e it is a tort of strict liability). However liability is not absolute, there are defences, and the defendant is only liable for the foreseeable consequences of the escape.

Facts of rylands v fletcher

The defendant hired some independent contractors to build a dam on the land they occupied. Unknown to the independent contractors the land was build on the unused mine shafts, which led into the underground workings of an old mine.

There was connection between these mines and the cliamants mines. When the reservoir was filled with water, the reservoir burst and all the water flowed into the plaintiff’s mines, which damaged his mines and now the claimant wanted to recover damages

Requirements in Rylands v Fletcher

Thus  in this case Lord Blackburn J laid down four requirments as the rule of law in rylands v fletcher as for the claimant to claim damges he must satisfy these four elements

  • 1- The defendant must have brought something on his land that is likely to cause mischief
  • 2- That thing escapes from land
  • 3- The Defendant made a non-natural use of land
  • 4- Because of the escape of that thing it causes foreseeable damage.

And it was held that the defendant use of the land was unreasonable which engaged a harm to the claimants property.

As now we should apply the facts of the rylands v fletcher to the requirements laid down by Blackburn j

Decison in Rylands V Fletcher

1- The defendant must have brought something on his land that is likely to cause mischief

As Blackburn j said that there is a difference between the thing that grow on land and which thing is artificially brought on to the land . The things that grow naturally on the land are grass, corn ormaybe rocks.

But in rylands v fletcher the defendant brought water onto his land as water does not grow on land so it means that defendant brought it artificially to his land. As water can cause mischief on the land if it is brought in a large quantity

2- That thing Escapes from land

According to vicot simon

“Escape from a place where the defendant has occupation of or control over to a place which is outside his occupation or control”

As water is a liquid and can form shape of anything it is put into so it was very likely that the water can be escaped from a land easily.

3- The Defendant made a non- natural use of the land

In Rickards v Lothian Lord Moulton Defined the term as

“A special use bringing with it increased danger to others, merely the ordinary use of the land or such a use was not proper for the general benefit of the community”

As it can be seen to use a land to build a dam can have a lot of consequences and it was not a natural use of the land.

4-Because of the escape of that thing it causes foreseeable damage.

As anything can cause damage it has escaped from a property. A list of some things were given in Winfield and Jolowicz

That are,

Fire, gas , Explosions, Electricity , Oil , Noxious fumes, colliery spoil, rusty wire from a decayed fence, vibrations, poisonous vegetation, a flag pole, and a chair-o-plane in fair ground.

As in the case of rylands v fletcher we can see that the escape of damage can cause a foreseeable damage to the property.

So the four requirements have been satisfied for the claimant which means that he can claim damages from the defendant.

Point to remember

The claimant can only recover damages caused to the land or the property kept onto the land, he can’t claim damges for the personal injury caused under the rule of rylands v fletcher.

Defences in Rylands v Fletcher

There are five defences that the defendant can have and if they are successful the defendant will take free and will face no charge.

1- Contributory negligence

If the negligence is equally balanced between the claimant and the defendant then the defendant will not be liable for the escape as it can merely be seen as a defence but in this defence “both will be liable” is a more proper term to use.

2- Consent

This defence can be applied when the claimant shows an express or an impled consent that he knows about the presence of the dangerous substance on the land and knows it can cause harm so in this case the defendant will not be liable

3- Statutory Authority

As if a statute or a law passed by the parliament requires a person to carry out that activity, so in that case the defendant will not be liable as the law requires him to do so

4- Act of stranger

If the escape is caused by a stranger or a third party who doesn’t have the control or occupation of that land on that moment, then the defendant is not liable for that harm.

5- Act of Nature

It was said in Tennet v Earl Glasgow that

“An escape caused directly by natural causes without human intervention in circumstances which no human foresight can provide against and of which human prudence is not bound to recognize the possibility”.

Thus the defendant will not be liable in these situations, like Earthquakes and floods.

6- Default of the claimant

If the escape is the fault of the claimant then the defendant will not be liable for it


1- How does rylands v fletcher protect the environment

As a non-natural use of the land causes harm to the environment, Imagine having any harmful substance at the property and it escapes and causes damage to nearby surroundings can affect the environment , so the rule in rylands v fletcher protects the environment by not bringing dangerous substances to your premises.

2- Who won rylands v fletcher

The claimant on whose property the water came won because due to the escape of water from defendant’ s property his mine shafts were destroyed

3- What is the significance of rylands v fletcher

The significance of this case is that it puts restrictions to the use of land for any non-natural or illegal purposes , Now the owner also has to take care of his surroundings and not to bring anything that can cause damage at large

4- Advantages and disadvantages of Rylands v fletcher

The advantage is that helps protect the rights of neighbours and surroundings but it also puts restrictions on the owner to the use of his land

5- Who can sue under rylands v fletcher?

Anyone who has suffered damge from the escape of any harmful substance from defendants proprerty

6- What condition was at issue in the Rylands v Fletcher case?

The main issue was the non-natural use of land as the land was not fit to make a dam on it but still the defendant tried to use it as a dam, which resulted in huge damage

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