Crown River Cruises v Kimbolton Fireworks – Case Summary

Crown River Cruises Ltd v Kimbolton Fireworks Ltd

High Court

Citations: [1996] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 533; [1996] CLC 1214; [1996] CLY 5691.


The claimant was a boat company. They had the right to moor boats on the River Thames, where they moored a passenger boat and a barge. The first defendant organised a fireworks display over the River Thames. Falling debris from this display caused the barge to catch fire. The second defendant, the local fire brigade, failed to properly put out this fire. As a result, the fire spread to the passenger boat. The claimant sued the defendants in negligence, private nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.

  1. Had the defendants been negligent?
  2. Did the claimant’s rights to moor their boats count as property rights in land, giving them standing in private nuisance?
  3. Was this an appropriate case for liability in Rylands v Fletcher?

The High Court held that the claimant should succeed against both defendants in negligence. It was a foreseeable and unacceptable risk that debris may cause fires on boats. The same was true of the danger failure to put out the fires. The court held that the first defendant was liable in nuisance, but not the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.

This Case is Authority For…

The failure to intervene to stop a danger is unlikely to break the chain of causation.

The first defendant argued that the second defendant’s failure to stop the first fire broke the causal chain between the first defendant’s negligence and the fire on the passenger boat. The High Court rejected this: the fire was an ‘inanimate act’ and the second defendant’s negligence was an omission to stop it.

The exclusive right to occupy and use mooring on a river bed is sufficient property interest in land to allow someone to sue in private nuisance.


This case demonstrates that a relatively short and one-off interference with land can amount to a nuisance. The nature of the locality will be particularly important in such cases. Here, the fireworks display was unreasonable interference because it was not ‘an ordinary and reasonable incident of river life’. Instead, it was ‘an unusual and potentially dangerous state of affairs’.

There was also debate in this case on two points relating to Rylands v Fletcher. The first was whether there must be an escape from land to invoke Rylands v Fletcher. The second defendant released the fireworks in this case from a floating river pontoon. They argued that this was not an escape from land.

There have been cases stating that accumulations and escapes onto the highway can result in Rylands v Fletcher liability without the need for an escape from the defendant’s land. Potter J found it persuasive to treat a river as akin to the highway.

The second was whether Rylands v Fletcher was limited to accidental escapes, and not intentional releases. In this case, the second defendant had released the fireworks on purpose (even if the harm was accidental). Again, Potter J thought that there was no good reason to limit the rule in this way.

However, since Potter J thought that modern authority disapproved of extensions to Rylands v Fletcher, he declined to make a finding of liability on the basis of Rylands v Fletcher in this case.