Rylands v Fletcher

Tort

Rylands v Fletcher

 John Rylands and Jehu Horrocks v    Thomas Fletcher


Citation -
L.R. 3 H.L. 330 (1868)

Court -     House of Lords

Judge -
   Lord Cairns, LC
   sitting - Lord Cranworth

Decided -
    17 July 1868



Case Summary -

Rylands (D) possessed a piece of property but did not have rights to the mines and veins of coal under the surface. Fletcher (P) possessed coal mines located near Ryland’s property. D constructed a reservoir on his property above an abandoned coal mine that was connected to P’s mines below the surface. The shafts of the abandoned mine below D’s property had been filled in with soil and D did not know or suspect that there was an abandoned mine below the surface.

When the reservoir was filled, water flowed into P’s mines causing the mine to shut down. P sued D for damages and lost profits.

Issue-  Can a party be liable for trespass for damage caused to the land of another, if the damage is a result of a defect in the party’s land, if the party did not know of the defect?

Holding and Rule - No. There must be negligence to create a liability. If there is no negligence, the loss falls upon the damaged party. D was not liable for the damage cased to P’s land because there was no trespass. To be liable for trespass, the damage would have had to have been immediate. Since in this case the damage was consequential rather than immediate there was no trespass. D was not liable in this case because he was not aware of any damage

Issue 1 - Is an absolute duty imposed on a landowner who lawfully brings something onto his land which, while harmless while it remains there, will naturally cause damage if it escapes?

Issue 2 - Will a party be liable for damage caused by a thing or activity that is unduly dangerous and inappropriate in a certain place, in light of the character of the place and its surroundings?

Holding and Rule 1-  Yes.

The law casts an absolute duty on a person who lawfully brings on his land something which though harmless while it remains there will naturally cause damage if it escapes. Ds are prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape. The plaintiff does not have to show negligence. The defendant however can use as a defense a showing that the escape was P’s fault or that it was caused by a major act of God.

Holding and Rule 2 -  yes.

Where the owner of land, without willfulness or negligence, uses his land in the ordinary manner of its use, though mischief should thereby be occasioned to his neighbor, he will not be liable in damages. But if he brings upon his land any thing which would not naturally come upon it, and which is in itself dangerous, and may become mischievous if not kept under proper control, though in so doing he may act without personal willfulness or negligence, he will be liable in damages for any mischief thereby occasioned.

Disposition - Reversed, judgment for Petitioner .
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