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 was bound ‘sic uit suo ut non laedat alienum’. ‘The defendants, treating them as the owners or occupiers of the close on which the reservoir was constructed, might lawfully have used that close for any purpose for which it might in the ordinary course of the enjoyment of land be used; and if, in what I may term the natural user of that land, there had been any accumulation of water, either on the surface or underground, and if, by the operation of the laws of nature, that accumulation of water had passed off into the close occupied by the plaintiff, the plaintiff could not have complained . . On the other hand if the defendants, not stopping at the natural use of their close, had desired to use it for any purpose which I may term a non-natural use, for the purpose of introducing into the close that which in its natural condition was not in or upon it, for the purpose of introducing water either above or below ground in quantities and in a manner not the result of any work or operation on or under the land, – and if in consequence of their doing so, or in consequence of any imperfection in the mode of their doing so, the water came to escape and to pass off into the close of the plaintiff, then it appears to me that that which the defendants were doing they were doing at their own peril; and, if in the course of their doing it, the evil arose to which I have referred, the evil, namely, of the escape of the water and its passing away to the close of the plaintiff and injuring the plaintiff, then for the consequence of that, in my opinion, the defendants would be liable.’

Lord Cairns LC
(1868) LR 3 HL 330, [1868] UKHL 1
England and Wales
Appeal fromRylands 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 . .
CitedSmith v Kenrick CCP 14-Feb-1849
Where there are two minings working adjacent land, each has the right to work his own mine, and to construct shafts in his own mine in whatever way he thinks fit, and even if this results naturally in damage to the neighbour’s mine, provided he is . .
CitedBaird v Williamson 1863
The parties worked mines on adjacent land. Water flooded the plaintiff’s mine and he sought damages from the defendant.
Held: He was liable. The water from the defendant’s mine had been raised to a higher level by pumping (‘non-naturally’) and . .

Cited by:
CitedCambridge 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 . .
CitedTransco 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 . .
CitedThames Water Utilities Limited v Marcic CA 7-Feb-2002
The claimant owned land over which sewage and other water had spilled from the appellant’s sewage works. His claim having been dismissed under Rylands v Fletcher, and there being no statutory means of obtaining compensation, the judge was asked to . .
CitedMcKenna 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 . .
CitedX v A, B, C ChD 29-Mar-2000
Trustees sought guidance from the court as to investment in land which might become a liability because of clean up costs associated with the Act when it came into force. Would the trustees have a lien over other property of the deceased to pay the . .
CitedGreen v The Right Honourable Lord Somerleyton and others CA 28-Feb-2003
The parties owned areas of marshland divided by a road. The claimant sought a declaration that the defendants had no right to allow floodwater to escape over his land from what he said was an artificial reservoir on the defendant’s land. The . .
CitedTransco 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 . .
CitedCambridge 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 . .
CitedRead 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 . .
ExplainedBurnie 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 . .
ExplainedRoss 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. . .
CitedLeakey 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 . .
CitedRHM 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.’ . .
AppliedAttorney 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 . .
CitedRainham 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 . .
CitedPerry 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. . .
CitedShiffman 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. . .
CitedMiles v Forest Rock Granite Co (Leicestershire) Ltd 1918
. .
DistinguishedCarstairs 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 . .
CitedAnderson 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 . .
CitedRickards 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 . .
CitedGreen 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 . .
ExplainedDunne 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 . .
CitedNichols v Marsland CA 1-Dec-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 . .
CitedHale 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 . .
CitedOverseas 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 . .
CitedCharing 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. . .
CitedAndreae 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 . .
CitedGoldman 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 . .
CitedLonghurst 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 . .
CitedAllen 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 . .
CitedDelaware 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 . .
CitedHunter 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 . .
CitedHunter and Others v Canary Wharf Ltd QBD 20-Dec-1994
The plaintiff made two claims arising from the construction works involvd in the Canary Wharf development. First that the building now prevented her TV signal reception, and second that the works had released substantial volumes of dust so as to . .
CitedHunter and Others v Canary Wharf Ltd; Same v London Docklands Development Board CA 13-Oct-1995
A release of dust over neighbouring properties can be a nuisance but not a blocking of TV reception signals. No action lay in private nuisance for interference with television caused by the mere presence of a building. ‘A substantial link between . .
CitedGilbert and Another (T/A Woods Farm Christmas Trees) v British Waterways Board TCC 15-Dec-2005
The respondent was responsible for a canal which overflowed onto the claimant’s land causing damage to the claimant’s business providing christmas trees. The defendant criticised the lack of accounting records.
Held: The claimants operated . .
MentionedBedfordshire Police Authority v Constable and others ComC 20-Jun-2008
The authority insured its primary liability for compensation under the 1886 Act through the claimants and the excess of liability through re-insurers. The parties sought clarification from the court of the respective liabilities of the insurance . .
CitedD Pride and Partners (A Firm) and Others v Institute for Animal Health and Others QBD 31-Mar-2009
The claimants sought damages after the loss of business when the defendants’ premises were the source of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The organism had escaped from their premises via a broken drain.
Held: Much of the damage claimed . .
CitedHome Brewery v William Davis and Co (Leicester) Ltd QBD 1986
The defendant, owner of the higher land, filled in a disused clay pit, and squeezed out water from an osier bed with the result that more water flowed onto the neighbouring plaintiff’s land causing damage. The plaintiff sought damages and an . .
CitedHamilton v Papakura District Council and Watercare Services Ltd PC 28-Feb-2002
(New Zealand) The claimants sought damages. The water authority had put in the water supply herbicides which damaged the crops they sought to grow, and which were watered from the supply. The plants were particularly sensitive to such chemicals.
CitedWillis and Another v Derwentside District Council ChD 10-Apr-2013
The claimants sought damages alleging the escape of noxious CO2 gas from the defendant’s neighbouring land. The gas originated from old coal workings.
Held: There had come to be a liability falling in the defendant from 2006. Its delay in . .
CitedStannard (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 . .
CitedMusgrove 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 . .
CitedMason v Levy Autoparts of England Ltd 1967
McKenna J said that there were not three separate routes to liability at law for the escape of fire from premises to a neighbour’s property, but one. A householder was liable for the escape of his fire (ignis suus): no additional danger was needed . .
CitedWoodland v Essex County Council SC 23-Oct-2013
The claimant had been seriously injured in an accident during a swimming lesson. She sought to claim against the local authority, and now appealed against a finding that it was not responsible, having contracted out the provision of swimming . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Land, Nuisance

Leading Case

Updated: 05 January 2022; Ref: scu.179681