Gore v Stannard (t/a Wyvern Tyres)
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Civ 1248;  QB 1;  3 WLR 623;  1 All ER 694;  Env LR 10;  3 EGLR 129.
An electrical fault on the defendant’s land caused a fire to break out. The defendant had been storing a large number of tyres on the land. The fire spread to these tyres. This fed the fire, which spread onto the claimant’s land and caused damage. The claimant sued in negligence and under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The trial judge rejected the negligence claim but held the defendant liable under the Rylands v Fletcher rule. The defendant appealed this ruling.
- Was storing tyres on the land a ‘dangerous’ activity?
- Did anything relevant ‘escape’ from the land?
- Was storing the tyres on the land a ‘non-natural’ use?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. Storing tyres on land is not a dangerous activity, was not non-natural in the circumstances, and there was no relevant escape. Therefore, the rule in Rylands v Fletcher did not apply to these facts.
This Case is Authority For…
The rule in Rylands v Fletcher only applies where the dangerous object or substance brought onto the land is the very thing that escapes. The rule is not triggered when a combustible substance catches fire and the fire is the thing which escapes, not the substance. Only where the occupier deliberately started the fire on his land would there be a relevant escape if it got out of hand.
An activity is dangerous if there is a foreseeable and exceptionally high risk of damage if an escape were to occur. There is no need for the escape itself to be foreseeable, just the damage.
Use of land is non-natural if it is extraordinary or unusual, taking into account the standards of the time and place and the type of land in question.
Lewison LJ explained the previous cases in which liability was imposed for accidental fires (particularly Musgrove v Pandelis  2 KB 43) were mainly based on findings of negligence. He argued that they were not an application of the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. To the extent that the court in Musgrove based its reasoning on Rylands v Fletcher, he argued that it was incorrect.