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Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan [1940] AC 880

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 07/01/2024 20:44

Judgement for the case Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan


  • Despite the absence of unlawful intent or malice, one could be held liable for nuisance if they negligently caused, allowed, or continues to adopt a nuisance to occur on their land that affected their neighbor.


  • The Appellant owned a property with a garden, while the Respondent owned a field adjacent to the north of the Appellant's land, separated by a hedge and a ditch. The presumption was that the ditch belonged to the Respondent due to its proximity to their hedge. This assumption was upheld by the Trial Judge and the Court of Appeal due to a lack of evidence to the contrary.

  • To the west of the Respondent's land was another property with a block of flats called Holcomb Court. In 1934, the owner of Holcomb Court improperly replaced the open watercourse ditch with a culvert, which was actually owned by the Respondents.

  • The culvert was inadequately protected with a grid, and during a heavy rainstorm in April 1937, it became blocked with debris, causing flooding on the Appellant's property and significant damage.


  • Appeal allowed.


  • This case has received substantial attention as a precedent for private nuisance in English law. It emphasized the significance of foreseeability and negligence and established the rules of culpability in nuisance situations. In countless later cases where nuisance claims were made, it has been referenced and followed.


  • A trespasser had installed a pipe on Defendant’s land to carry off rain water without Plaintiff’s permission. Plaintiff later became aware of it, maintained it and used it. However it eventually became clogged up and caused sewage to spill onto Plaintiff’s land.

  • Plaintiff sued Defendant for damages and HL allowed the claim on the grounds that, once Plaintiff became aware of the pipe they were responsible for it and by allowing to get clogged up and damage Defendant’s land, they were liable for nuisance.

Maugham VC

  • So long as the owner of the land causing the harm knew or is taken to have known of the cause of the problem (absentee owners are included), then the fact that it was installed without their permission is irrelevant.

An occupier of land is liable for the continuance of a nuisance created by others, e.g., by trespassers, if he continues or adopts it… an occupier of land "continues" a nuisance if with knowledge or presumed knowledge of its existence he fails to take any reasonable means to bring it to an end though with ample time to do so. He "adopts" it if he makes any use of the erection, building, bank or artificial contrivance which constitutes the nuisance.

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Tort Law Notes
1,070 total pages
843 purchased

Tort Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. ...