Research Project of Law of Torts (Autosaved)

March 23, 2019 | Author: Kumar Mangalam | Category: Negligence, Tort, Social Institutions, Society, Private Law
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AIM OF THE REASEARCHER  The researcher has done this project to find out the rules applied in RYLAND’S vs. FLETCHER.



The researcher has done the whole project with the help of books and online content only. It is a totally opted doctrine method. There is no field work done during the research work.

HYPOTHESIS “The rule in Rylands and Fletcher has no place in the modern world”.


Rylands v Fletcher [1868] was a decision by the HOUSE OF LORDS which established a new era of ENGLISH LAW TORT. Rylands employed contractors to build a reservoir,  playing no active role in its construction. When the contractors discovered a series of old coal shafts improperly filled with debris, they chose to continue work rather than properly  blocking them up. The result was that on 11 December 1860, shortly after being filled for the first time, Ryland’s reservoir burst and flooded a neighbouring mine, run by Fletcher, causing £937 worth of damage. Fletcher brought a claim under NEGLIGENCE through which the case eventually went to the Exchequer of Pleas. The majority ruled in favour of Ryland’s; however, Bramwell B, dissenting, argued that the claimant had the right to enjoy his land free of interference from water, and that as a result the defendant was guilty of trespass and the commissioning of a nuisance. Bramwell's argument was affirmed, both by the Court of Exchequer Chamber and the House of Lords, leading to the development of the "Rule in Rylands v Fletcher "; that "the person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his  peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the

natural consequence of its escape". No right "to enjo y property" exists in UK black-letter law, and it is this decision upon which stare decisis1 in the area. This doctrine was further developed by English courts, and made an immediate impact on the law. Prior to Ryland s, English courts had not based their decisions in similar cases on  strict liability2, and had focused on the intention behind the actions rather than the nature of the actions themselves. In contrast, Rylands imposed strict liability on those found detrimental in such a fashion without having to prove a duty of care or negligence, which brought the law into line with that relating to public reservoirs and marked a significant doctrinal shift. Academics have criticised it, however, both for the economic damage such a doctrine could cause and for its limited applicability.


 Stare decisis--The policy of courts to abide by or adhere to principles established by decisions in

earlier cases. 2

 Strict liability--the legal responsibility for damages, or injury, even if the person found strictly liable

was not at fault or negligent.

1. FACTS AND ISSUE ABOUT THE CASE:The defendant landowner’s, RYLANDS and HORROCKS, engaged some independent contractors to construct a reservoir to supply water to their mill. Due to the negligence of the contractors and unknown to the defendant landowners, the reservoir was constructed above 5 old blocked vertical mine shafts. When the reservoir was partially full, one of these shafts  burst downwards, emptying the reservoir, and the water travelled underground through a series of old abounded coal workings. These abounded mines had come to be connected to the active underground workings of Thomas Fletcher, the plaintiff and owner of an adjoining mineshaft, the red house colliery. His colliery was inundated with water and all work had to  be suspended. He sued the defendants for damages. The plaintiffs had a problem however liability could not be based on any of the existing torts at the time. The activity constituted a single escape, which was neither continuous nor recurring. Therefore, there was no actionable  private nuisance. At the time, there was no such thing as vicarious liability for the actions of the independent contractors; therefore there was no cause of action. The landowners themselves were not negligent. They have no knowledge of the actions of the independent contractors. The judiciary however, could not allow the defendant to escape l iability.


A. By Liverpool Assizes The tort of  trespass was not applicable, because the law of trespass was not present at that time. So the action was taken under the tort of  nuisance instead of trespass. The case was first heard by Mellor J and a special jury in September 1862 at the Liverpool Assizes. A court order led to an arbitrator from the Exchequer of Pleas being appointed in December 1864. The arbitrator decided that the contractors were liable for negligence, since they had known about the old mine shafts. Rylands, however, had no way of knowing about the mine shafts and so he was not liable.

B. Exchequer of Pleas The case was taken to the Exchequer of Pleas, where it was heard between 3 and 5 May 1865. It was heard on two points. Firstly, whether the defendants were liable for the actions of the contractors and secondly, whether the defendants were liable for the damage regardless of their lack of negligence. They decided for the first point t hat the defendants were not liable,  but more split on the second point. Pollock CB, Martin B and Channell B held that the defendants were not liable, as since a negligence claim could not be brought there Brambell B, dissenting, argued that the claimant had the right to enjoy his land free of interference from water, and that as a result the defendant was guilty of trespass and the commissioning of a nuisance. He stated that "the general law in matters wholly independent of contract" should  be that the defendants were liable, "on the plain ground that the defendants have caused water to flow into the [claimant]'s mines, which but for t he defendant's act would not have gone there".

C. House Of Lords The House of Lords dismissed Rylands appeal. They agreed with the six exchequer judges  but went further to add a limitation on the liability.

3. DEFENCES:A number of defences arise in the Rylands Vs Fletcher case:1. CONSENT

The express or implied consent of the claimant to the presence of source of the danger Provided there has been no negligence by the defendant, will be a defence.

2. COMMON BENEFIT If the source of benefit was maintained for the benefit of both the parties, the defendant will not be liable for its escape. 3. ACT OF A STRANGER  The defendant will not be liable if a stranger was responsible for the escape. 4. STATUTORY AUTHORITY A statute may require a person or body to carr y out a particular activity.

5. ACT OF GOD An act of god is an event which “no human foresight can provide against and of which human prudence is not bound to recognise the possibility. 6. DEFAULT OF THE CLAIMANT If the escape is the fault of the claimant there will be no liability. Alternatively, there may be contributory negligence on the part of the claimant.




A. Act of stranger 1. Box v Jubb Facts

The defendant had a reservoir on their land. There was a nother reservoir situated at a higher level than the defendant’s. The owner of this other reservoir emptied it through a drain connected to the defendant’s reservoir causing the defendant’s reservoir to overflow and damage the claimant’s land. The claimant brought an action under  Rylands v Fletcher contending that there was a non natural user of the land and that there had been an escape of water that caused damage. Held:

The defendant was not liable for the damage as it was caused by the act of a third party over which the defendant had no control.

2. Perry v Kendricks Transport Limited [1956] Facts: -


The defendant kept an old coach that needed repair on their land adjoining a piece of wasteland. The claimant, a young boy of 10 approached two other boys on the wasteland close to the coach. As he got close, the boys lit a match and threw it into the petrol tank of the coach causing an explosion which left the claimant with s evere burns. The claimant brought an action under the principle set out in Rylands v Fletcher. Held: -

The defendant was not liable as the escape was caused by the deliberate action of a third  party.

B. Wrongful act of a third party

1. Carstairs v Taylor (1871) Facts:

The claimant stored rice in the ground floor of a warehouse which he leased from the defendant. The defendant used the upper floor for storage of cotton. A rat gnawed through a gutter box draining water from the roof of the warehouse. Following this, a heavy rainfall caused the roof to leak and damaged the claimant’s rice. Held:

The defendant was not liable under   Rylands v Fletcher.  The claimant had not brought the water onto his land to accumulate it. The heavy rain and actions of the rat were classed as an act of God.

2. Nichols v Marsland (1876) Facts:-

The defendant diverted a natural stream on his land t o create ornamental lakes. Exceptionally heavy rain caused the artificial lakes and waterways to be flooded and damage adjoining land. Held:-

The defendant was held not liable under Rylands v Fletcher as the cause of the flood was an act of God.

C. Statutory authority

1. Charing Cross Electric Supply Co v Hydraulic Power Co [1914] Facts: -

A water main burst causing damage to the claimant’s property. The claimant brought an action based on the principle established in Rylands v Fletcher. The defendant sought to rely on the defense of statutory authority .

Held: -

However, whilst the statute granted permission to the defendant to keep the water main at high pressure there was no obligation to do so. The defense therefore failed . 2. Smeaton v Ilford Corporation [1954] Facts: -

Sewerage from the defendant’s sewer overflowed into the cla imant’s land causing damage. The court held there was no negligence or nuisance. Under s.31 Public Health Act 1936, the defendant was obliged to discharge their functions so as not to create a nuisance. Held:-

The court held this to amount to an obligation or duty rather than a mere pe rmission and therefore the defense of statutory authority applied and the defendant was not liable under Rylands v Fletcher.

3. Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co (1894) Facts: -

A water main burst causing damage to the claimant’s land. Chelsea Waterworks co were under a statutory obligation to maintain high pressure in the water main. This would mean that any escape would inevitably cause damage. Held:-

They were not liable under Rylands v Fletcher as they had the defense of statutory authority.

D. Consent/benefit

1. Peters v Prince of Wales Theatre [1943] Facts: -

The claimant leased a shop adjacent to a theatre from the defendant, the owner of the the atre. The claimant’s shop sustained flood damage when pipes from the theatre’s sprinkler system  burst due to icy weather conditions. The claimant brought an action based on liability under Rylands v Fletcher. Held: -

The defendant was not liable. The sprinkler system was equally for the benefit of the claimant and the claimant was deemed to have consented to the use of the sprinkler system since it had  been installed prior to him obtaining the lease.

5. CONCLUSION:In all the cases discussed, ranging from Canada, Australia, India and Africa, we can see that the application of the doctrine of Rylands v Fletcher had failed to bear fruits. Instead, the  judges are found to advise the complainants of other possible remedies such as negligence. In Australia, the doctrine of Rylands v Fletcher is no longer applicable, but has rather been modified to negligence. The three Australian cases cited have shown that the plaintiffs or the defendants who relied on the case of Rylands and Fletcher did not succeed. In India and Canada we can see there is difference in application of the doctrine of Rylands and Fletcher. First when this rule was adopted in England in late 19th century it was viewed to play a major role in tort law. However due to advent of tort of negligence and the concern of strict liability in extreme circumstances it meant it never fulfilled its foreseen initial  promise. This can be evidenced from the two Indian cases outlined in the paper. Initially the doctrine was used in some Indian cases but later as evidenced in given cases the doctrine become marginalized. In Canadian case following the outlined cas es in the paper we can see that originally the principle was not prominent as it was not used in the first case. But later we can see its application in cases in Canada. Finally, in Africa, we see that the doctrine could not be relied upon in which it complicates a simple matter of negligence into a case that

is limited by lack of evidence. Therefore, the doctrine of Rylands and Fletcher has no meaning in the modern law.


1. “Law of Torts” by Dr. R.K. Bangia, Publisher-Allahabad law nd 22  edition, 2010, reprint 2011-2012 2. 3. 4.


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