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 continues to exist as a remedy for damage to land or interests in land. It does not apply to works or enterprises authorised by statute. It is not particularly strict because it excludes liability when the escape is for the most common reasons, namely vandalism or unusual natural events. The cases in which there is an escape which is not attributable to an unusual natural event or the act of a third party will, by the same token, usually give rise to an inference of negligence. There is an ill-defined exception for ‘natural’ uses of land. ‘It is perhaps not surprising that counsel could not find a reported case since the second world war in which anyone had succeeded in a claim under the rule. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the intellectual effort devoted to the rule by judges and writers over many years has brought forth a mouse.’ A guide to whether there was a ‘non-natural’ user of land is to ask whether the damage was insurable. In this case liability was not established because there had been no escape of a substance brought onto the land, Transco having an easement and therefore in interest in the land. Though the occasion for the operation of the rule in Rylands is now very much restricted, it was too soon to declare it no longer to be part of English law.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe
 UKHL 61, Times 20-Nov-2003,  1 ALL ER 589, 91 Con LR 28,  2 AC 1,  Env LR 24,  1 P and CR DG12,  3 WLR 1467,  48 EGCS 127,  NPC 143
House of Lords, Bailii
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 – Rylands v Fletcher CEC 1865
Mr Fletcher’s Lancashire coal mine was flooded by the water from Mr Rylands’ mill reservoir in 1860-61.
Held: Mr Rylands was responsible. Blackburn J said: ‘We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes brings . .
Cited – Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Property Ltd 1994
(High Court of Australia) The court treated the rule in Rylands v Fletcher as absorbed by the principles of ordinary negligence. The majority were influenced by the difficulties of interpretation and application to which the rule had given rise, the . .
Cited – Ross v Fedden HL 1872
The defendant occupied premises above those of the plaintiff. Whilst the property was unattended, the water closet leaked, damaging the plaintiff’s goods on the ground floor. The waste pipe had been blocked by paper and there were other defects. . .
Cited – Leakey v The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty CA 31-Jul-1979
Natural causes were responsible for soil collapsing onto neighbouring houses in Bridgwater.
Held: An occupier of land owes a general duty of care to a neighbouring occupier in relation to a hazard occurring on his land, whether such hazard is . .
Cited – RHM Bakeries (Scotland) Ltd v Strathclyde Regional Council 1985
The suggestion that the decision in Rylands v Fletcher had any place in Scots law is ‘a heresy which ought to be extirpated.’ . .
Cited – Attorney General v Cory Brothers and Co Ltd HL 1921
The defendant colliers placed waste from the mine in a huge heap. Rain cause the heap to slip, damaging nearby properties. the landslide in question was of what counsel described as an ‘enormous mass of rubbish’, some 500,000 tons of mineral waste . .
Cited – Rainham Chemical Works Ltd (in liquidation) and others v Belvedere Fish Guano Co Ltd HL 1921
At a time of war, a process was invented where picric acid was manufactured from dinitrophenol (DNP) and nitrate of soda. DNP had been used mainly for the manufacture of dyes, and was a stable compound which did not explode easily. It was not in . .
Cited – Perry v Kendricks Transport Ltd CA 1956
The Act gave a defence to liability for a fire which started accidentally, this did not cover a fire which started by negligence. . .
Cited – Shiffman v Order of St John of Jerusalem (Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital) 1936
The plaintiff recovered damages for personal injuries under the rule in Rylands -v- Fletcher. . .
Cited – Miles v Forest Rock Granite Co (Leicestershire) Ltd 1918
Cited – Carstairs v Taylor 1871
The plaintiffs were tenants of the ground floor of a building. The defendants occupied the top floor. A rat gnawed through a box in which rain water was collected from the roof, causing a leak into the plaintiff’s property, causing damage. No . .
Cited – Anderson v Oppenheimer CA 1880
The defendant owned a house in the City of London with different floors let to tenants. In the lease of the ground floor, he covenanted to allow the tenant ‘peaceably hold and enjoy the demised premises during the term without any interruption by . .
Cited – Rickards v Lothian PC 11-Feb-1913
The claim arose because the outflow from a wash-basin on the top floor of premises was maliciously blocked and the tap left running, with the result that damage was caused to stock on a floor below.
Held: The provision of a domestic water . .
Cited – Tenant v Goldwin 1704
He whose dirt it is must keep it that it may not trespass. The defendant was liable where he failed to maintain the partition wall in his privy so that the filth ran into the plaintiff’s cellar. . .
Cited – St Helen’s Smelting Co v Tipping HL 1865
The defendant built a factory, from which the escaping chemical fumes damaged local trees.
Held: The defendant was liable even though the smelting was an ordinary business carried on properly, and even though the district surrounding was . .
Followed – Cambridge Water Company v Eastern Counties Leather Plc HL 9-Dec-1993
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 . .
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 – Wildtree Hotels Ltd and others v Harrow London Borough Council HL 22-Jun-2000
The compensation which was payable for disturbance, when works were carried out on land acquired compulsorily, did not extend to the damage caused by noise dust and vibration arising from the works. Where however damage could be brought within the . .
Cited – Hammersmith and City Railway Co v Brand HL 13-Jul-1869
In the absence of negligence, damage caused by operations authorised by statute is not compensatable unless the statute expressly so provides. The wording of the sections, and in particular section 6 of the Railways etc Act, only entitled a claimant . .
Cited – Geddis v Proprietors of Bann Reservoir HL 18-Feb-1878
The owner of land injured by operations authorised by statute ‘suffers a private loss for the public benefit’, and in the absence of clear statutory authority is unable to claim: ‘It is now thoroughly well established that no action will lie for . .
Cited – Dunne v North Western Gas Board CA 1964
Works carried out by virtue of a statutory authority are a recognised exemption to liability under the rule in Rylands -v- Fletcher. The defendant’s liability in Rylands: ‘could simply have been placed on the defendants’ failure of duty to take . .
Cited – Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co 1894
A water main belonging to a waterworks company, which had been authorized by Parliament to lay the main, burst. There had been no negligence on the part of the waterworks company. The claimants’ premises were flooded but the waterworks company was . .
Cited – Empress Car Company (Abertillery) Ltd v National Rivers Authority HL 22-Jan-1998
A diesel tank was in a yard which drained into a river. It was surrounded by a bund to contain spillage, but that protection was over ridden by an extension pipe from the tank to a drum outside the bund. Someone opened a tap on that pipe so that . .
Disapproved – Hale v Jennings Bros 1938
The owner of the fairground was held to be responsible for a chair-o-plane which became detached from the roundabout, because the act of the man ‘fooling about on this device’ was: ‘just the kind of behaviour which ought to have been anticipated as . .
Cited – Nichols v Marsland CA 1876
Flood following heavy rain was not negligent
The defendant was the owner of a series of artificial ornamental lakes, which had existed for a great number of years, and had never previous to 18th June, 1872 caused any damage. On that day, however, after a most unusual fall of rain, the lakes . .
Cited – Dale v Hall 1750
Damage done by rats is not normally an act of God. . .
Cited – Nugent v Smith CA 29-May-1876
A mare carried in the hold of the ship, died as a result of a combination of more than usually bad weather and the fright of the animal herself which caused her to struggle and injure herself.
The defendant, a common carrier by sea from London . .
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 – 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 . .
Cited – Charing Cross Electricity Supply Co v Hydraulic Power Co 1914
A high pressure water main laid under a city street could constitute something dangerous brought onto the defendant’s land and which involved a risk of damaging the plaintiffs’ property. . .
Cited – Goldman v Hargrave PC 13-Jun-1966
(Australia) In Western Australia, a red gum tree was struck by lightning and set on fire. The appellant had the tree cut down, but took no reasonable steps by spraying the fire with water to prevent the fire from spreading, believing that it would . .
Cited – Andreae v Selfridge and Co Ltd CA 1938
The plaintiff had a hotel. The rest of the island had been acquired by the defendant which was demolishing and rebuilding the other properties. The plaintiff complained, and the judge found, that by reason of the operations, which involved noise and . .
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 – Longhurst v Metropolitan Water Board HL 1948
Water had leaked from a main and disturbed paving stones in the highway. The water board had had no knowledge of or reason to suspect any danger to the public at the place in question.
Held: Affirming the Court of Appeal, since the board was . .
Cited – Allen v Gulf Oil Refining Ltd HL 29-Jan-1980
An express statutory authority to construct an oil refinery carried with it the authority to refine. It was impossible to construct and operate the refinery upon the site without creating a nuisance. Lord Wilberforce said: ‘It is now well settled . .
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 – Job Edwards Ltd v Birmingham Navigations Proprietors CA 1924
Land next to the canal was used for the deposit of refuse by trespassers. The mound spread until, for a fee, it was dumped also across the canal. It caught fire, and the fire spread toward the canal. By agreement the parties got together to put out . .
Cited – Holbeck Hall Hotel Ltd and Another v Scarborough Borough Council CA 22-Feb-2000
Land owned by the defendant was below a cliff, at the top of which was the claimant’s hotel. The land slipped, and the hotel collapsed. Some landslip was foreseen from natural causes, but not to the extent of this occasion.
Held: The owner of . .
Cited – Rapier v London Tramways Co CA 16-May-1893
The defendants were a Tramway company who were empowered by their Act to lay down and construct two lines of Tramway according to deposited plans, together with the works and conveniences connected therewith. The Act gave no compulsory powers for . .
Cited – Musgrove v Pandelis CA 2-Jan-1919
The plaintiff ((M) rented first floor rooms above the defendant’s garage. The defendant’s employee spilt petrol which was lit, and negligently failed to control it causing a fire, damaging the plaintiff’s rooms.
Held: The Act did not provide a . .
Cited – Merlin v British Nuclear Fuels plc 1990
The plaintiffs claimed that their house had been damaged by radioactive material that had been discharged into the Irish Sea from Sellafield which had subsequently become deposited in their house as dust.
Held: The l965 Act required them to . .
Cited – Blue Circle Industries Plc v Ministry of Defence CA 16-Jun-1998
Contamination of land by the overflow of radioactive materials from a pond, led to damages for the cost of repair, and also the permanent diminution of the value in the land from physical damage.
Held: The Court dismissed the appeal of the . .
Cited – Bond v Nottingham Corporation CA 1940
Sir Wilfred Greene MR said: ‘The nature of the right of support is not open to dispute. The owner of the servient tenement is under no obligation to repair that part of his building which provides support for his neighbour. He can let it fall into . .
Cited – Bradburn v Lindsay 1983
The plaintiffs sued the owner of the adjoining house which had deteriorated so badly it had had to be demolished. The party wall was left standing but was largely unsupported.
Held: The defendant knew of the perilous state of her property (a . .
Appeal from – Transco plc and Another v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council CA 1-Mar-2001
A water pipe serving housing passed through an embankment. The pipe broke, and the escaping water led to the collapse of the bank to the expense of the applicants.
Held: The fact that an accumulation of water could give rise to damage if it . .
Cited – Arscott and others v Coal Authority and Another CA 13-Jul-2004
The defendant had deposited coal wastes. When the river Taff flooded, the spoil heaps diverted the floods to damage the claimants’ homes. They appealed refusal of their claims in nuisance. The judge applied the common enemy rule: ‘an owner or . .
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 – 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 . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 01 December 2021; Ref: scu.187998