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Rylands v Fletcher
The rule in Rylands v Fletcher is a separate tort that grew out of the tort of nuisance.
This rule makes a person liable for things that escape from his land and cause damage to others.
o Rylands v Fletcher D owned a water mill. He contracted some builders to construct a reservoir that
would guarantee a water supply to the mill. The builders were negligent so that water from the
reservoir escaped and caused damage to the claimants mine.
The Claimant and the defendant
The claimant must have an interest in the land.
The defendant must control the land from which the escape occurs.
Elements of Tort
A) Brings on to land
D must bring whatever causes the harm on to his land. The claim will fail if it is there already.
o Giles v Walker Thistles spread form one man's land to another. He was not liable as they were not
there naturally and he had not planted them.
B) Anything likely to do mischief
The thing accumulated must be dangerous (likely to cause mischief) if it escapes.
Therefore it does not have to be dangerous in itself or likely to escape.
As a result it does include a wide variety of possible items, some of the obviously dangerous such as
chemicals and explosives, but also ordinary things such as water, animals, oil and gas.
The requirement that this mischief is likely has been interpreted to mean "reasonably foreseeable".
Therefore the possibility of the thing causing damage must be reasonably foreseeable when it is being
o Cambridge Water Co. v Eastern Countries Leather plc - Here, chemicals from the tanning process
eventually filtered through the ground and polluted the claimant's bore hole, it was not foreseeable.
It must be shown that the defendant has done something which he recognised or out to have recognise as
giving rise to an exceptionally high risk of damage if there should be an escape.
o Transco plc. V Stockport Metropolitan Council A water pipe owned by the defendants,
Stockport council, fractured and caused damage to a gas pipe.
C) Non-natural use
The dangerous thing must have been brought on to the land as part of some non-natural use of the land.
The CA defined this as "some special us bringing with it increased danger to others"
o Richards v Lothian water had escaped from a sink in D's office and damaged stock belonging to C
in the office bellow. It was decided bringing water to a sink is normal so a natural use.
o Cambridge Water Co The storage or large amounts of chemicals was seen as non-natural use of
The HL described non-natural use as meaning extraordinary and unusual. Ordinary use is preferable to natural
use making it clear that the rule of Rylands v Fletcher only applies when the Defendants use is shown to be
extraordinary and unusual.
o Transco The claim failed supplying flats with water is ordinary use.
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D) If it escapes
The thing must escape and cause damage on the land of another. If the damage occurs on the defendant's
land, the claim will fail.
o Read v Lyons - a weapons inspector was injured when a shell exploded while she was visiting the
munitions factory. Her claim failed under Rylands v Fletcher as there had been no escape, as it
happened on the defendants land.…read more