Rylands and Fletcher [1868] summary

Case Name: Rylands v Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1
Court: House of Lords
Case History: Exchequer of Pleas

Court of Exchequer Chamber
Facts: The defendant owned a mill and constructed a reservoir on their land. The reservoir was placed over a disused mine. Water from the reservoir filtered through to the disused mine shafts and then spread to a working mine owned by the claimant causing extensive damage. Held (Court of Exchequer): The trial court found that the defendant was ignorant of the abandoned mine shaft and free of negligence and decided the case in favor of the defendant. Held (Court of Exchequer Chamber): The defendant were strictly liable for the damage caused by a non-natural use of land.
Held (House of Lords): Appeal was dismissed and compensation was given to the plaintiff. Ratio Decidendi: Any occupier of land who brings onto that land any substance which is not naturally on that land and which if it escapes is likely to do damage to adjoining property is absolutely liable for any damage so caused. The precedent used in the instant case were Smith v Kendrick and Baird v Williamson, two case involving water that left a defendant’s property and entered a neighboring mine shaft.. The Smith court found for the defendant because the defendant’s use of the mine was not “unusual,” and the water in the defendant’s mine had “naturally flowed down” to the plaintiff’s mine. In contrast, Baird, involved several defendants who permitted water to be pumped directly into the plaintiff’s mine as part of the defendants’ mineral extraction operation. The Baird court held that the defendants were liable for the incursion because the flow of water to the plaintiff’s mine was contrary to the “operation of nature”

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