Brief Fact Summary
Plaintiff sued in connection with the flooding of his mine.
The rule laid down in RYLAND v. FLETCHER is generally known as the rule of strict
liability with certain exceptions.
Facts of the case
In this case, Rylands v Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330, the plaintiff (Fletcher) sued Rhylands for
the damage that the plaintiff believed was caused by the defendant. Both Ryland and Fletcher
Ryland owned a textile mill for whose energy requirement he constructed a water reservoir on
his land. He gave this work to independent contractors and engineers. They themselves took no
part in the construction. Fletcher operated mines and defendant had excavated up to disused
mines which were under the land where the plaintiff’s reservoir was located. The contractors
failed to seal that disused mines properly. As a result, the contractors “made no attempt” to fix
the shafts. These shafts led through a series of interconnected shafts and channels, into the
plaintiff’s mines and land. They filled the reservoir with water. Due to the negligence of the
private contractor, water flooded through the mineshafts into the plaintiff’s mines on the
adjoining property, causing heavy loss to him.
In those circumstances, Thomas Fletcher sued John Rhylands.
The plaintiff secured a verdict at Liverpool Assizes. The Court of Exchequer Chamber held the
defendant liable and the House of Lords affirmed their decision.
1. Whether the defendants were liable irrespective of the proof of negligence on their own
part, or on the part of any one engaged by them to erect the reservoir.
2. Whether they, though personally guiltless of any negligence, were liable for the
negligence of the contractor employed by them to construct the reservoir.
The second argument was decided in the Court of Exchequer against the plaintiff, and was not
discussed in the subsequent appeals, it being held immaterial in view of the decision that the
defendants were liable upon the first point.
Mr. Justice Blackburn, who delivered the opinion of the court, laid down the broad principle now
commonly called 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.”
The appeal was dismissed and compensation was given to Fletcher.
Evolution of precedent
The development of the legal doctrine as the doctrine of Strict Liability for abnormally
dangerous conditions and activities. This case paved the way for judgment of many more cases
on Nuisance and liability in case of negligence. Even if one is not on fault, he can be held liable
for negligence. Strict liability states a person responsible for the damage or loss did occur to
others by his or her activity without the concern of elements such as negligence, mensrea and
any kind of remote liability.
1. Is there an ‘accumulation’?
2. Is the ‘thing’ accumulated, ‘likely to do mischief’ if it escapes?
3. Was there in fact an ‘escape’? Is there a recoverable form of damage?
4. Was there a ‘non-natural use’ of land?
1. Consent or Volenti non fit injuria- 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. Act of a Stranger- The defendant will not be liable if a stranger was responsible for the
3. Statutory Authority- A statute may require a person or body to carry out a particular
4. Act of God- This is an unforeseeable natural phenomenon. The defendant will not be
liable where the escape is due solely to natural causes, in circumstances where no human
foresight could reasonably recognise the possibility of such an occurrence and provide
The creation of a general clause of strict liability based in the special danger or for dangerous
activities. The precedent is a genre of nuisance that applies to cases between neighbours for
escape of something that is not naturally on defendant’s land and that adversely affects
claimant’s enjoyment of his land. This allows compensation for personal injury and is not
restricted to damage to plaintiff’s enjoyment of land. So, some of the hazardous activities where
as a matter of fact is not strict but standard of care required in those types of cases ( such as
liability of an owner of a dangerous animal, liability of employers for independent contractors
for dangerous operations and liability for inherently dangerous chattels) is so high that it almost
amount to “ a guaranty of safety”, a promise of unifying elements into one general rule of law
i.e. strict liability or doctrine of Rylands v. Fletcher. Final comments on the precedent is future
role play by Rylands v. Fletcher is making path for a generally defined principle of strict
There is a situation when a person may be liable for some harm even though he is not negligent
in causing the same. There is no intention to cause harm. Sometimes he may even have made a
positive effort to avert the same. This is called the rule of Strict Liability.
credit: Jaspreet Kaur
College- University of Five Year Law College, University of Rajasthan