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Rylands v. Fletcher

Citation. State ex rel. Fletcher v. Ruhe, 52 P. 274, 24 Nev. 251
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Brief Fact Summary.

Water from Defendant’s reservoir escaped onto Plaintiff’s land because of an unknown latent defect in Defendant’s subsoil. Plaintiff sued Defendant for trespass.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One who lawfully brings something onto his land, which though harmless while it remains there will naturally do mischief if it escapes the land, will be strictly liable for its escape.


Plaintiff was damaged by his property being flooded by water, which, without any fault on his part, broke out of a reservoir constructed on Defendants’ land. Water in the reservoir would not have escaped from Defendant’s land and no mischief would have been done to Plaintiff, but for a latent defect in Defendant’s subsoil. Plaintiff sued Defendant for trespass. Opinions are taken from the intermediate appellate court.


Is Defendant liable to Plaintiff in trespass for damage caused as a result of a defect in Defendant’s land if they were not aware of the defect?


(L.C. Cairns) Yes. Judgment for Plaintiff.
* Defendant might lawfully have used the land for any purpose for which it might in the ordinary course of the enjoyment of the land be used. If by the laws of nature, water entered Plaintiff’s land, then Plaintiff could not have recovered against Defendant.
* However, Defendant used the land for the purpose of introducing that, which in its natural condition, was not in or upon it. As a result, the water came to escape and enter Plaintiff’s land. Defendant should be held liable at their own peril.
Concurrence. (Lord Cranworth) I concur with the judgment for Plaintiff.
* If a person brings, or accumulates, on his land anything, which, if it should escape, may cause damage to his neighbor, he does so at his peril. The question is not whether the Defendant has acted with due care and caution, but whether his acts have occasioned the damage. In this case, the damage sustained by Plaintiff was occasioned by the unnatural escape of water from Defendant’s reservoir.


In this case the court adopts a theory of strict liability for owners who bring unnatural things upon their land, which later escapes.

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