The plaintiffs sought damages and an injunction after the defendant company allowed chlorinated chemicals into the plaintiff’s borehole which made unfit the water the plaintiff itself supplied.
Held: The appeal was allowed. Liability under Rylands for escape of materials from land is dependant upon proof of the foreseeability of damage of the relevant type. Here, it was not established that the defendants could have foreseen the damage which was in fact caused. Neighbours had to use the rule of give and take and live and let live.
Lord Goff of Chieveley said: ‘Like the judge in the present case, I incline to the opinion that, as a general rule, it is more appropriate for strict liability in respect of operations of high risk to be imposed by Parliament, than by the courts. If such liability is imposed by statute, the relevant activities can be identified, and those concerned can know where they stand. Furthermore, statute can where appropriate lay down precise criteria establishing the incidence and scope of such liability.’
Lord Goff approved what he suggested was the tenor of what Blackburne J’s statement of the law had meant in Fletcher v Rylands (1866) LR 1 Ex 265: ‘The general tenor of his statement of principle is therefore that knowledge, or at least foreseeability of the risk, is a prerequisite of the recovery of damages under the principle; but that the principle is one of strict liability in the sense that the defendant may be held liable notwithstanding that he has exercised all due care to prevent the escape from occurring’. He reviewed the law of nuisance: ‘Of course, although liability for nuisance has generally been regarded as strict, at least in the case of a defendant who has been responsible for the creation of a nuisance, even so that liability has been kept under control by the principal of reasonable user-the principal of give and take as between neighbouring occupiers of land, under which ‘those acts necessary for the common and ordinary use and occupation of land and houses may be done, if conveniently done, without subjecting those who do them to an action’: see Bamford v. Turnley  3 B and S, 62, 83, per Bramwell B.’ and ‘It is not necessary for me to identify precise differences which may be drawn between this principle [in Rylands] and the principle of reasonable user as applied in the law of nuisance. It is enough for present purposes that I should draw attention to the similarity of function.’
Lord Templeman, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, Lord Lowry and Lord Woolf, Lord Goff of Chieveley
Times 10-Dec-1993, Gazette 16-Mar-1994, Independent 10-Dec-1993, (1994) 1 All ER 53,  2 WLR 53,  2 AC 264,  UKHL 12
England and Wales
Cited – Rylands v Fletcher HL 1868
The defendant had constructed a reservoir to supply water to his mill. Water escaped into nearby disused mineshafts, and in turn flooded the plaintiff’s mine. The defendant appealed a finding that he was liable in damages.
Held: The defendant . .
Cited – Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Miller Steamship Co Pty (The Wagon Mound) (No 2) PC 25-May-1966
(New South Wales) When considering the need to take steps to avoid injury, the court looked to the nature of defendant’s activity. There was no social value or cost saving in this defendant’s activity. ‘In the present case there was no justification . .
Appeal from – Cambridge Water Company v Eastern Counties Leather Plc: Cambridge Water Company v Hutchings and Harding Ltd CA 19-Nov-1992
The defendants operated a plant using chlorinated solvent chemicals which, over a long period had seeped through the floor of their factory and into the chalk subsoil, eventually polluting the plaintiff’s water supply some mile and half away. The . .
Applied – Read v J Lyons and Co Ltd HL 1946
The plaintiff was employed by the Ministry of Defence, inspecting a weapons factory. A shell exploded injuring her. No negligence was alleged. The company worked as agent for the ministry.
Held: The respondents were not liable, since there had . .
Cited – Bamford v Turnley 2-Jul-1862
The defendant burned bricks on his land, causing a nuisance to his neighbours.
Held: It was no answer to an action for damages that he selected a proper place within his land for an activity which would interfere with a neighbour’s enjoyment . .
Cited – Jan De Nul (Uk) Limited v NV Royale Belge CA 10-Oct-2001
The contractor undertook to dredge a stretch of river. Due to its failure to investigate properly, the result was the release of substantial volumes of silt into the estuary, to the damage of other river users and frontagers. The act amounted to a . .
Applied – Savage and Another v Fairclough and others CA 30-Jul-1999
The defendants had applied inorganic fertiliser to their land, eventually causing pollution of the claimant’s water supply. The pollution exceeded EC levels. However the claimants had not established that the damage was foreseeable, nor that the . .
Cited – McKenna and Others v British Aluminum Ltd ChD 16-Jan-2002
Claimants began an action in nuisance and Rylands v Fletcher against the respondents. They sought to strike out the claim on the basis that some of the claimants did not have a sufficient interest in the land affected. The rule in Rylands v Fletcher . .
Cited – Dennis and Dennis v Ministry of Defence QBD 16-Apr-2003
The applicants owned a substantial property near an airbase. They complained that changes in the patterns of flying by the respondents were a nuisance and sought damages. Walcot Hall was subjected to very high noise levels from military aircraft. . .
Followed – Transco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council HL 19-Nov-2003
Rylands does not apply to Statutory Works
The claimant laid a large gas main through an embankment. A large water supply pipe nearby broke, and very substantial volumes of water escaped, causing the embankment to slip, and the gas main to fracture.
Held: The rule in Rylands v Fletcher . .
Cited – Delaware Mansions Limited and others v Lord Mayor and Citizens of the City of Westminster HL 25-Oct-2001
The landowner claimed damages for works necessary to remediate damage to his land after encroachment of tree roots onto his property.
Held: The issue had not been properly settled in English law. The problem was to be resolved by applying a . .
Cited – Hunter and Others v Canary Wharf Ltd HL 25-Apr-1997
The claimant, in a representative action complained that the works involved in the erection of the Canary Wharf tower constituted a nuisance in that the works created substantial clouds of dust and the building blocked her TV signals, so as to limit . .
Cited – Bybrook Barn Garden Centre Ltd and Others v Kent County Council CA 8-Jan-2001
A culvert had been constructed taking a stream underneath the road. At the time when it came into the ownership of the local authority, it was adequate for this purpose. Later developments increased the flow, and the culvert came to become an . .
Cited – LMS International Ltd and others v Styrene Packaging and Insulation Ltd and others TCC 30-Sep-2005
The claimants sought damages after their premises were destroyed when a fire started in the defendants neighbouring premises which contained substantial volumes of styrofoam. They alleged this was an unnatural use of the land.
Held: To . .
Cited – Anthony and others v The Coal Authority QBD 28-Jul-2005
The claimants lived adjacent to an old coal tip, which caught fire spontaneously and burned for three years. They claimed in nuisance. The defendant argued that the risk of spontaneous ombustion was not reasonable, and that the use was safe.
Cited – Hirose Electrical UK Ltd v Peak Ingredients Ltd CA 11-Aug-2011
The claimant appealed against dismissal of its claim in nuisance. The parties occupied adjoining units on an industrial estate. The defendant’s business generated odour which, the wall between them being permeable, passed into the claimant’s office . .
Cited – Southwark London Borough Council v Mills/Tanner; Baxter v Camden London Borough Council HL 21-Oct-1999
Tenants of council flats with ineffective sound insulation argued that the landlord council was in breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment in their tenancy agreements.
Held: A landlord’s duty to allow quiet enjoyment does not extend to a . .
Cited – Stannard (T/A Wyvern Tyres) v Gore CA 4-Oct-2012
The defendant, now appellant, ran a business involving the storage of tyres. The claimant neighbour’s own business next door was severely damaged in a fire of the tyres escaping onto his property. The court had found him liable in strict liability . .
Cited – Coventry and Others v Lawrence and Another SC 26-Feb-2014
C operated a motor racing circuit as tenant. The neighbour L objected that the noise emitted by the operations were a nuisance. C replied that the fact of his having planning consent meant that it was not a nuisance.
Held: The neighbour’s . .
Cited – Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Williams and Another CA 3-Jul-2018
Japanese Knotweed escape is nuisance
The defendant appealed against an order as to its liability in private nuisance for the escape of Japanese Knotweed from its land onto the land of the claimant neighbours. No physical damage to properties had yet been shown, but the reduction in . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Torts – Other, Environment, Nuisance
Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.78841