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Rylans v. Fletcher

Citation. In the Exchequer Chamber, L.R. 1 Ex. 265, (1886).
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Bloomberg Law

Brief Fact Summary.

Defendants constructed a reservoir to supply their mill. The reservoir flooded a mine worked by plaintiff, through no fault of defendant.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When a non-natural use of land is made, the defendant is absolutely responsible for damages occurring to others due to the non-natural use.


Defendants were the owners of a mill. They constructed a reservoir on the land of Lord Wilton nearby. Plaintiff was under lease from Lord Wilton to work coal mines on land close to, but not adjoining the reservoir. The defendants employed a competent engineer and contractors to plan and construct the reservoir. Old mine workings laid beneath the reservoir, but defendants were under no personal fault in its construction. Within a few days of final construction, one of the old mine shafts gave way and burst downward, letting water into the plaintiff’s mine.


Does the defendant owe an absolute duty to plaintiff for injuries that occur from the non-natural use of defendant’s land?


Yes. Judgment affirmed.
* Justice Blackburn stated the plaintiff, though free from all blame, must bear the loss in this case unless he can establish it was somehow the fault of defendants. When a person brings something on his land that is harmless as long as it remains there, but will naturally do mischief if it escapes, he is liable for all natural consequences if it does escape. This is true unless he can show the escape was plaintiff’s fault, or perhaps the consequence of vis major or an act of God.
* Lord Chancellor Cairns stated that if there had been a natural accumulation of water on the defendant’s land that escaped and did mischief, plaintiff could not complain. Rather, it would be plaintiff’s duty to stop the flow of water from defendant’s to plaintiff’s land if he needed to do so. However, when the use is a non-natural one, as in the present case, the defendants act at their own peril and are absolutely responsible for the result of their actions.
Concurrence. Lord Cranworth’s concurrence is omitted.


The non-natural use of land determination looks not only to the activity in question, but also to the place and manner where it is maintained.

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