Rylands v Fletcher [1866] UKHL 1

misrepresentation, mining

Rylands v Fletcher [1866] UKHL 1 is a Tort Law case concerning nuisance.


Appellants, Rylands, constructed a water reservoir on their land. Respondent was the owner of the adjoining property and operated mine shafts there. As the appellants filled the reservoir with water, the water leaked into the disused mine shafts underneath and damaged the respondent’s shaft eventually. 


Above all, were the defendants liable in damages?


The House of Lords dismissed an appeal by the Rylands. The Court held that one can use their land for any reasonable purpose the land can be used and if the water leakage happens to occur by the force of nature, the neighbour cannot complain. However, (1) if the dangerous things are accumulated for ones own purposes, (2) the things in question are likely to do mischief if they escape and (3) the damage is a natural consequence of the escape, a person acting so will be liable.

As per Blackburn J: ‘…the person who for his own purposes brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes [and is non-natural use], must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage.’

Keywords: nuisance, rylands v fletcher rule, damages
References: (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 330, [1868] 7 WLUK 83

Have a look at our notes for more information.

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