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Fletcher v. Rylands

Citation. L.R. 1 Exch. 265 (1866)
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Citation. L.R. 1 Exch. 265 (1866)

Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant built a reservoir on top of plaintiff’s old mine. After the reservoir was completed, the mine shaft collapsed and flooded plaintiff’s mine.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A person who lawfully brings something onto his land that if it escapes is capable of doing harm, is strictly liable for any harm occurring as a natural consequence of the escape.


Plaintiff owned and operated a number of underground coal mines. Defendant built a reservoir on top of one of plaintiff’s old mines. However, defendant did not know about this when the reservoir was under construction. After the reservoir was completed, the water broke through the filled-in shaft of the mine and flooded and flooded into plaintiff’s mine.


Was defendant liable for damages done by his escaped properties?


Yes. The Exchequer Chamber granted judgment for plaintiff and instructed the parties to figure out the amount of reasonable damages.


The Court thinks the true rule of law is that the person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escaped, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damages which is the natural consequences of its escape.

The Court also clarifies that defendants can raise defense such as showing the escape was owing to the plaintiff’s default; or perhaps that the escape was the consequence of vis major or act of God. However, nothing of this sorts existed in this case, thus the Court did not address the sufficiency of such excuses.

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