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Encyclopedia > Rylands v. Fletcher

Rylands v. Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330 is a landmark English legal case in which the House of Lords first applied the doctrine of strict liability for inherently dangerous activities. It established a rule related to, though arguably distinct from, the tort of nuisance. The tort is increasingly being recognised as distinct from nuisance, altough undoubtably closely related. 1868 was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... Court citation is a standard system used in common law countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to uniquely identify the location of past court cases in special series of books called reporters. ... Royal motto (French): Dieu et mon droit (Translated: God and my right) Englands location within the UK Official language English de facto Capital London de facto Largest city London Area - Total Ranked 1st UK 130,395 km² Population - Total (mid-2004) - Density Ranked 1st UK 50. ... This article is about the British House of Lords. ... Strict liability is a legal doctrine in tort law that makes a person responsible for the damages caused by their actions regardless of culpability (fault) or mens rea. ... In the common law, a tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. ... Nuisance is a common law tort. ...

The case concerned escape of water onto neighbouring land. Later cases decided on the basis of the rule included Cambridge Water v. Eastern Counties Leather, which concerned the leakage of solvent into the claimant's water reservoir below.


Rylands was constructing a mill on his land. He employed indepdendent contractors to do the work. While excavating the construction site, the contractors came across some disused mine shafts. They (with admitted negligence) failed to determine where these shafts led. In fact, the shafts led to Fletcher's land. Water from the mill's reservoir, without negligence, flooded into the shafts and into Fletcher's land. Fletcher sued Rylands.

The issue before the Court was whether the doctrine of strict liability could be applied to inherently dangerous activities. Fletcher argued that a strict doctrine of negligence should be applied where Rylands should be liable for the damages caused by his inherently dangerous activity (that is, collecting a dangerous amount of water on his land which then "escaped" into the mine). Rylands argued that he was acting reasonably and lawfully on his own land and thus should not be held responsible for a simple accident. In law, negligence is a type of tort or delict that can be either criminal or civil in nature. ...


The Court found in favour of Fletcher and ordered Rylands to pay for all the property damage to the mine. The Court agreed that Rylands had a duty in maintaining the reservoir to all harm caused by it.

We think that the true rule of law is, that the 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 escapeā€¦

The Court further elaborated by saying that the defendant can only excuse himself by showing that the damage was caused by an Act of God or force majeure. Prima facie is a Latin expression meaning at first sight, used in common law regions to denote a case that is strong enough to justify further discovery and possibly a full trial. ... Act of God is a common legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. ... Force majeure (French for greater force) is a common clause in contracts which essentially frees one or both parties from liabilities when an extraordinary event beyond the control of the parties, such as flood, war, riot, act of God, prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the...

External links

  • Lecture from lawteacher.net



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