Rylands v Fletcher (1866) LR 1 Exch 2×65

Key point

  • This case laid down the Rylands v Fletcher rule

Facts

  • Ds employed independent contractors to build a dam on their land
  • The dam was constructed over gives disused mine shafts, which unknown to them, led into C’s mines
  • The reservoir burst into the shafts and flowed into C’s mines
  • C sued D in respect of the damage the flooding caused

Held (Court of the Exchequer Chamber)

  • D was liable for the damage

Blackburn J

  • “We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes 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.”: p. 339–340
  • Possible defences include:
    • The escape being the fault of the plaintiff
    • Act of god (vis major)

Commentary

  • The case was upheld in House of Lords, with the addition of a requirement of non-natural use
  • In the 1860s there was much public anxiety about the safety of reservoirs, the failure of the Bradfield Reservoir near Sheffield in 1864 had led to the loss of 250 lives. The judicial response was thus to introduce strict liability by a new principle of law: Lord Hoffmann in Transco at [28]