The Rules in Rylands and Fletcher

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The rule in Rylands and Fletcher
Consider the potential liability in tort for the loss sustained by Paul in the situation above.How successful might any defences be?

The tort in Rylands v Fletcher(1868) came into being as a result of the Industrial Revolution which took place during the eighteenth century.In Rylands v Fletcher(1868), the defendant, a mill owner. Had paid independent contractors to make a reservoir on his land, which was intended to supply water to the mill.During the construction, the contractors discovered the shafts and passages of an old coal mine situated on neighbouring land, belonging to the claimant. The contractors could have blocked up these shafts, but did not and as result, when the reservoir was filled, the water from it burst through the shafts and flooded the claimant’s mine, causing damage estimated at £937.

The defendant himself had not been negligent, since there was no way he could have known about the shafts, and nor could he be held vicariously liable for the contractors, who were clearly not his employees for that purpose.An action for trespass was unavailable, because the damage was not direct and immediate and at the time of the case the tort of nuisance could not be applied to an isolated escape.Nevertheless, the House of Lords held that the defendant was liable in tort, upholding the judgement delievered in the lower court by Blackburn J, which defined the rule:”A person who, for his own purposes, brings on his land and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must do so at his peril, and, if he does not do so, he is prima facie answerable for all damage which is natural consequence of its escape.”

The justification for this rule, he explained, was that ‘the person whose grass or corn is eaten down by the escaping cattle of his neighbor, or whose mine is flooded by the water from the neighbour’s reservoir or whose cellar is invaded by the filth of his neighbor’s privy or whose habitation is made unhealthy by the fumes and noisome vapours of neighbor’s alkali works, is damnified without any fault of his own..’Despite the fact that the courts claimed a clear foundation for the rule in previous cases, these authorities did not go nearly as far as the decision in the case, and it is generally regarded as establishing a completely new principle at the time.In order to succeed in a claim under Rylands v Fletcher, the claimant must therefore prove the following:The defendant must control the land from which the problem has come, the defendant must have brought or accumulated something in the course of some ‘unnatural use’ of the land, the thing brought or accumulated must be dangerous, meaning likely to do damage if it escapes from the land, there must be an escape of the dangerous thing and there must be damage as a result of the escape.

As the defendant must control the land from which the problem has come which clearly told on the facts that Sandy runs a business that makes components for the IT industry.Nothing on the facts suggests otherwise, hence arguably on the facts, this is satisfied.The defendant must have brought or accumulated something in the course of some ‘unnatural use’ of the land.In Rickards v Lothian, the Court of Appeal defined non-natural use as some special use bringing with it increased danger to others.It must not merely be the ordinary use of the land or such a use is proper for general benefit of the community.In British Celanese v A H Hunt, the court held that where their factory was sited, theirs could not be called a non-natural use as it was situated in industrial estate.In Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather(HOL), the Lord Goff stated that the storage of chemicals on industrial premises was a “classic case of non-natural use”.Just because the activity benefitted the community in tht it created employment did not render such use of the land natural.

In Transco plc v Stockport Metropoliton Borough Council, Lord...
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