Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks – Case Summary

Blyth v The Company of Proprietors of the Birmingham Waterworks

Court of Exchequer

Citations: 156 ER 1047; (1856) 11 Ex 781.


The defendant was a water supply company. By statute, they were under an obligation to lay pipes and gratuitously provide fire-plugs for putting out fires. There were strict statutory requirements for how the pipes and plugs should be laid. The defendants complied with these requirements, and otherwise constructed the plugs according the best-practice requirements of the time. However, due to extreme cold during one of the coldest winters on record, a fire-plugs came loose. This caused flooding which filled the claimant’s house with water. The County Court held the defendant liable in the tort of negligence for the damage to the claimant’s house. The defendant appealed.

  1. Had the defendant breached their duty of care in negligence?

The Court held in favour of the defendant. There was no evidence by which the defendant could be found in breach of duty.

This Case is Authority For…

Alderson B set out the classic definition of negligence:

‘Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.’

A reasonable person would not guard against freak weather occurrences in a case such as this.