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 natural or man-made (the ‘hazard’ being an unstable mound of earth which was present on the land not as a result of any human action or activity on the land). The nature and extent of the duty is a duty to do that which is reasonable in all the circumstances. The decision and the dicta in Rylands v Fletcher had given rise to continual trouble in the law of England.
Megaw LJ said: ‘The defendant’s duty is to do that which it is reasonable for him to do. The criteria of reasonableness include, in respect of a duty of this nature, the factor of what the particular man – not the average man – can be expected to do, having regard, amongst other things, where a serious expenditure of money is required to eliminate or reduce the danger, to his means. Just as, where physical effort is required to avert an immediate danger, the defendant’s age and physical condition may be relevant in deciding what is reasonable, so also logic and good sense require that, where the expenditure of money is required, the defendant’s capacity to find the money is relevant. But this can only be in the way of a broad, and not a detailed, assessment; and, in arriving at a judgment on reasonableness, a similar broad assessment may be relevant in some cases as to the neighbour’s capacity to protect himself from damage, whether by way of some form of barrier on his own land or by way of providing funds for expenditure on agreed works on the land of the defendant.’ and
‘If, as a result of the working of the forces of nature, there is poised above my land or above my house a boulder or a rotten tree which is liable to fall at any moment of the day or night perhaps destroying my house, and perhaps killing or injuring me or members of my family, am I without a remedy? . . Must I, in such a case, if my protests to my neighbour go unheeded, sit and wait and hope that the worst will not befall? If it is said that I have in such circumstances a remedy of going on my neighbour’s land to abate the nuisance, that would, or might, be an unsatisfactory remedy. But in any event, if there were such a right of abatement, it would, as counsel for the Plaintiffs rightly contended, be because my neighbour owed me a duty. There is, I think, ample authority that, if I have a right of abatement, I have also a remedy in damages if the nuisance remains unabated and causes me damage or personal injury.’
and ‘The duty is to do that which is reasonable in all the circumstances, and no more than what, if anything, is reasonable to prevent or minimise the known risk of damage or injury to one’s neighbour or to his property. The considerations with which the law is familiar are all to be taken into account in deciding whether there has been a breach of duty, and, if so, what that breach is, and whether it is causative of the damage in respect of which the claim is made. Thus there will fall to be considered the extent of the risk; what so far as can reasonably be foreseen are the chances that anything untoward will happen or that any damage will be caused? What is to be foreseen as to the possible extent of the damage if the risk becomes a reality. Is it practicable to prevent, or to minimise, the happening of any damage? If it is practicable, how simple or how difficult are the measures which could be taken, how much and how lengthy work do they involve, and what is the probable cost of such works? Was there sufficient time for preventive action to have been taken, by persons acting reasonably in relation to the known risk, between the time when it became known to, or should have been realised by the defendant, and the time when the damage occurred. Factors such as these, so far as they apply in a particular case, fall to be weighed in deciding whether the defendant’s duty of care requires, or required, him to do anything, and, if so, what?’
Megaw LJ, Shaw LJ, Cumming-Bruce LJ
 QB 485,  1 All ER 17,  EWCA Civ 5
England and Wales
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 – 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 – 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 – Donoghue (or M’Alister) v Stevenson HL 26-May-1932
Decomposed Snail in Ginger Beer Bottle – Liability
The appellant drank from a bottle of ginger beer manufactured by the defendant. She suffered injury when she found a half decomposed snail in the liquid. The glass was opaque and the snail could not be seen. The drink had been bought for her by a . .
Cited – Davey v Harrow Corporation CA 1957
The Plaintiff’s house was damaged by roots penetrating from trees on adjoining land. At first instance, Sellers J found that the damage was caused by the trees, but they were not proven to be the property of the defendants. On appeal and after . .
Cited – Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan HL 24-Jun-1940
Occupier Responsible for Nuisance in adopting it
A trespasser laid a drain along a ditch on the defendant’s land. Later the defendants came to use the drain themselves. A grate was misplaced by them so that in a heavy rainstorm, it became clogged with leaves, and water flowed over into the . .
Cited – Smith 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 . .
Cited – Barker v Herbert CA 1911
The Defendant owned a house near the highway. A rail in a nearby fence of the area railing had been broken away by some boys, and there was therefore a gap in the railings. A child climbed through fell into an open area, injuring himself. The . .
Cited – Noble v Harrison CA 1926
A tree shed a limb onto a passer-by, causing personal injury. The Court of Appeal reversed the original finding in favour of the claimant because the defect could not have been discovered by inspection. A land-owner may become liable for a naturally . .
Cited – Wilkins v Leighton 1932
Luxmoore J said that ‘one of the most normal uses of land’ (for the purposes of the Rylands v. Fletcher doctrine) ‘ . . is to put buildings on it.’ . .
Cited – 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 – Thomas and Evans Ltd v Mid-Rhondda Co-operative Society CA 1941
The defendants set out to re-construct a wall along the side of the river to protect their land and an adjacent highway from flooding. In doing so they pulled down the wall, leaving gaps which they intended to fill by a new building. The river . .
Cited – Rouse v Gravelworks Ltd CA 1940
The defendants had dug out gravel from their land, leaving a large hole adjacent to the boundary with the plaintiff’s land. Water filled the hole and caused damage to the plaintff’s land.
Held: The plaintiff’s claim failed because the damage . .
Cited – Thames 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 . .
Cited – Green 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 . .
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 – 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 – Marcic v Thames Water Utilities Limited HL 4-Dec-2003
The claimant’s house was regularly flooded by waters including also foul sewage from the respondent’s neighbouring premises. He sought damages and an injunction. The defendants sought to restrict the claimant to his statutory rights.
Held: The . .
Cited – Tennant Radiant Heat Ltd v Warrington Development Corporation 1988
A property comprised a large building let on fully repairing leases of 22 units. The many rain outlets were allowed to become blocked, and water accumulated above one unit before that part of the roof collapsed. The landlord appealed a finding that . .
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 – 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 . .
Applied – 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 – Lambert and Others v Barratt Homes Ltd and Another CA 16-Jun-2010
The claimants had bought houses from the first defendants, who in turn had bought the land from Rochdale, the second defendants. In preparing the land for construction the first defendants were said to have negligently filled in a drainage culvert . .
Cited – Page Motors v Epsom Borough Council CA 9-Jul-1981
The plaintiffs were lessees of land neighbouring that of the Council. Over several years the council’s land had been occupied by gypsies who, it was said had damaged the plaintiff’s business. Though the Council had obtained a possession order in . .
Cited – Willis 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 . .
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 – Robbins v London Borough of Bexley CA 17-Oct-2013
The claimant said that his house had been damaged by tree roots for which the appellant was responsible. The trees were 33 metres from the house.
Held: The appeal failed. The immediate cause of the damage was a failure to do something which . .
Cited – Stagecoach South Western Trains Ltd v Hind and Another TCC 11-Jun-2014
A train crash was caused when an ash tree fell from the defendant’s land across the railway line. The company sought damages from the land-owner.
Held: The land-owner’s duty extended no further than the carrying out of periodic informal or . .
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 . .
Cited – Hurst and Another v Hampshire County Council CA 19-Jun-1997
A Local Authority is liable for any damage to adjacent property caused by the roots of a tree growing on the verge of a public highway.
Held: Pre-adoption trees vest in the highway authority for all purposes. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 05 January 2022; Ref: scu.179683