Rylands V Fletcher
Bell Computers could attach liability to either Chemical Supply or Industrial Estates under the tort of Rylands v Fletcher.
Chemical Supply’s Liability
Rylands v Fletcher established that a person who “for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so , is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.” The rule therefore imposes strict liability on the defendant for all damage which occurs as a natural consequence of the escape, and there is no requirement for intent or neglect. The rule only applies to defendants who keep “a thing which is likely to do mischief it if escapes.”
As a neighbouring property, Bell has the locus standi to take a claim in Rylands. It can sue Chemical Supply as occupier of the premises from which the chemicals escaped. In Shell Mex v Belfast Corp the defendant corporation placed gas pipes under a road not owned by them, and were held liable for the explosion caused by a leak in the pipes as they had control over the works.
Bell must prove accumulation, by showing that Chemical Supply brought the substances onto the property for its own benefit, and that it intended to be responsible for the accumulation. The item must be dangerous, i.e. likely to do mischief if it escapes. In Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather, the court held that the test to determine whether the defendant knew that the chemicals which escaped from the defendant’s premises were dangerous, was whether the danger was reasonably foreseeable. The court will consider the nature of the risk capable of being known to the defendant and his knowledge of the possible means of escape and potential harm. It concluded in this case that the harm was not reasonably foreseeable as the chemicals had seeped into a bore hole located one mile away. It should