Ryland vs. Fletcher([1868] UKHL 1, (1868) LR 3 HL 330)

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

were neighbours

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.

Arguments

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.

Judgement

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.

Requirements:-

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?

Defences:-

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

escape.

3. Statutory Authority- A statute may require a person or body to carry out a particular

activity.

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

against it.

Personal view

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

liability.

Conclusion

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

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