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Rylands v. Fletcher

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Rylands v. Fletcher
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff sued in connection with the flooding of his mine. The trial court found in his favor. Defendant sought review.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. 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.

    Facts. Plaintiff owned and operated a mine adjacent to which Defendant constructed an artificial pond. The latter caused a mine shaft collapse, which resulted in a flood, and damaged Plaintiff’s operation. The plaintiff sued, the matter was brought before an arbitrator to independently establish facts. The trial court found for Plaintiff; the appellate court affirmed; Defendant appealed to the House of Lords, which also affirmed.

    Issue. Was the use of Defendant’s land unreasonable and thus was he to be held liable for damages incurred by Plaintiff?

    Held. The lower court judgment was affirmed, stating in essence that the Defendant’s use of the land was unreasonable, engaged in without proper caution, and resulted in harm to the Plaintiff.

    Concurrence. The concurrence states more clearly the rule to be applied (see above), noting also that more than the due care which was owed to plaintiff, at issue was the factual determination of damage: “[w]hen one person in managing his own affairs causes, however innocently, damage to another, it is obviously only just that he should be the party to suffer.”

    Discussion. The Rylands court considers the manner in which the Defendant used the land and concluded such use was “non-natural” what modern courts have described as inconsistent land use, i.e., when a party inflicts non-reciprocal risks on another. Nineteenth century English law was stricter than current law, in which trespass liability ordinarily requires the physical intrusion onto property, and nuisance law requires “continuing” and “permanent” activity (such as industrial activity that causes airborne pollution.


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