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...
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