Perry v Kendricks Transport Ltd – Case Summary

Perry v Kendricks Transport Ltd

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1956] 1 WLR 85; [1956] 1 All ER 154; (1956) 100 SJ 52; [1956] CLY 6024.

Facts

The defendant owned a parking ground, on which sat a disused coach. The petrol had been drained out of the coach and a cap screwed onto the petrol pipe. The claimant was a ten-year-old boy who was approaching the edge of the parking ground. He saw two other boys interfering with the coach. The boys ran away just before there was an explosion which severely injured the claimant. It later transpired that someone had removed the petrol cap, and one of the boys had thrown a lit match into the tank, igniting the remaining petrol fumes.

The claimant sued the defendant under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The defendant argued that he should not be liable, because an unconnected third-party (the boys) were responsible for the explosion.

Issue(s)
  1. Could the defendant be liable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher for the deliberate acts of an unconnected third-party?
Decision

The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. The defendant could only be liable in these circumstances if they ought to have foreseen the escape and guarded against it. The claimant had failed to demonstrate this.

This Case is Authority For…

Singleton LJ stated that where the escape of a dangerous substance is deliberately caused by an unconnected third-party, a defendant is only liable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher if:

  1. They ought to have anticipated third parties being on the land; and
  2. They ought to have anticipated those third parties causing an escape and guarded against it.

Jenkins LJ similarly thought that Rylands v Fletcher would only apply in these circumstances if

‘the dangerous thing was left by the defendants in such a condition that it was a reasonable and probable consequence of their action, which they ought to have foreseen, that [strangers] might meddle with the dangerous thing and cause it to escape’.

He noted, however, that Rylands v Fletcher liability was redundant in such circumstances, since the defendant would almost certainly be liable in negligence.

Other

Parker LJ in this cases noted that there is controversy in the case law as to whether the rule in Rylands v Fletcher can be invoked in personal injury cases. However, the court appeared to assume for present purposes that liability was possible.