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Rylands v Fletcher

[1868] LR 3 HL 330

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 17:51 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Rylands v Fletcher

D had permission to build a water mill on his land and employed reputable engineers to do it. The engineers came across some old mine shafts during the work but didn’t seal them properly with the result that water from the mill flooded the mine on the neighbouring land. HL held P liable for the engineers’ lack of care- strict liability. 
Lord Cairns LC: In cases where damage is done by the operation of nature, e.g. if water had naturally accumulated, D would not be liable. However, where P brings something onto his land which is not there naturally, and, as a result of the imperfect manner in which they do so, then the defendant’s actions were at his own peril. If therefore an evil arises which injures P or P’s land, D is liable. He endorses Blackburn J’s decision in the court below. 
Blackburn J (in court below but endorsed by HL: judges): A person who brings something onto his land likely to do mischief if it escapes must keep it at his peril. He is prima facie liable for any damage naturally consequent upon its escape. He can escape liability where P caused the escape or vis maior or an act of god. This is just: If A’s cattle escapes and ruins B’s crops, then A should pay. Same is true, for example, of filth from one’s privy or fumes etc 

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