Tort: Rylands v Fletcher

The Rule in Rylands v Fletcher

Establishing Liability

When is the Rule in Rylands v Fletcher Applicable?

A defendant is liable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher (1866) LR 1 Exch 265 if:

  1. He is the occupier of land;
  2. He uses that land in a non-natural way;
  3. As a result of this a dangerous thing escapes the land; 
  4. The escape of that dangerous thing causes damage to another; and
  5. The kind of damage caused was reasonably foreseeable.
What is ‘Non-Natural’ Use?

Use is non-natural if the defendant was doing something which he ought to have realised, judging by the standards of the relevant place or time, was ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unusual’ and which gave rise to an exceptionally high risk of danger or mischief if there was an escape: Transco v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council [2004] 2 AC 1. It is not relevant that an escape was unlikely or that the defendant’s use was reasonable. Relevant factors indicating the use is (according to the House of Lords in Transco) natural include:

Law, exhaustive code, rules

There is statutory regulation that appears to provide an ‘exhaustive code’ for regulating the activity.

Time, money, insurance

The claimant might reasonably be expected to insure against the risk himself (if possible at reasonable cost).

Activity, work, labour

The risk posed by the activity is no greater than similar ‘ordinary’ activities.

Duty, security, job

The defendant was under a statutory duty to engage in the activity.

What is a ‘Dangerous Thing?’

The definition of dangerous is very broad, covering anything which has the tendency to cause harm. However, an activity will only be dangerous if it tends to pose a risk of harm if used in the way the defendant is using it. For example, storing water behind a dam is dangerous, but bringing water onto land as part of ordinary domestic water supplies is not: Rickards v Lothian [1913] AC 263.

The dangerous thing must have been ‘brought onto the land’: this excludes liability for accidentally lit fires. See: Gore v Stannard [2014] QB 1.

What is an ‘Escape’?

Something ‘escapes’ from land if it moves from a ‘place the defendant has occupation or control of’ to a ‘place which is outside his occupation of control’: Read v Lyons [1947] AC 156. If the dangerous thing only causes harm within the defendant’s land, therefore, there is no escape. 

When is the Damage ‘Reasonably Foreseeable’?

The rule in Rylands v Fletcher has been classified by the House of Lords in Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather [1994] 2 AC 264 as a species of nuisance.  This means that the type of harm suffered must be reasonably foreseeable. There is no requirement that the escape is foreseeable, however.


Defences

The following defences are relevant to liability under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher

Act of God
Act of god, bolt of lightning

This defence applies where the escape was caused by natural causes which were entirely unforeseeable: Rickards v Lothian [1913] AC 263.

Third-Party Intervention
Hacker, intervention, third-party attack

This defence applies where the cause of the escape was the deliberate act of the third-party over whom the defendant had no control and whose intervention was not a ‘reasonable and probable consequence’ of the defendant’s actions which he ought to have guarded against: Perry v Kendricks Transport [1956] 1 WLR 85.


Remedies

Since the rule in Rylands v Fletcher has been characterised as a species of nuisance, the claimant can only claim if his interests in land have been damaged: Transco v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council [2004] 2 AC 1. The other rules relating to claiming remedies in nuisance also presumably apply. 


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Nuisance & Rylands v Fletcher Quiz

Test yourself on the principles of nuisance and Rylands v Fletcher.

1 / 23

What factors indicate that a use is 'natural' for the purposes of the rule in Rylands v Fletcher? (Four answers)

2 / 23

The defendant is being sued for breach of the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The escape was caused by the deliberate act of a third party. Is the defendant liable?

3 / 23

If the escape in issue in a Rylands v Fletcher kind of case was caused by an act of nature, is the defendant liable?

4 / 23

What does it mean if the defendant continued a private nuisance?

5 / 23

Can a person sue in public nuisance if they do not have a property interest in affected land?

 

6 / 23

Which four factors indicate that the defendant's use of land is 'unreasonable' for the purposes of public or private nuisance?

7 / 23

What kind of tort is the rule in Rylands v Fletcher?

8 / 23

When is planning permission relevant to whether a defendant's activity is a nuisance?

9 / 23

For the purposes of establishing the rule in Rylands v Fletcher, what is a non-natural use?

10 / 23

What forms of damage are not recoverable in private nuisance? (Two answers)

11 / 23

The default rule is that an injunction will be granted to restrain any public or private nuisance. True or false?

 

12 / 23

When does a dangerous thing 'escape' for the purposes of the rule in Rylands v Fletcher?

13 / 23

If the defendant did not directly cause a nuisance themselves, what must that the claimant show to demonstrate the defendant is responsible for a private nuisance? (Two answers)

14 / 23

In private nuisance, what is the effect on the assessment of reasonableness that the claimant's use was especially sensitive to the nuisance?

15 / 23

What are the four matters the claimant must show to establish the rule in Rylands v Fletcher?

16 / 23

What three factors indicate that damages in lieu of an injunction should be granted in an injunction claim?

17 / 23

What three matters must the claimant establish to show that the defendant has committed private nuisance against them?

18 / 23

To establish public or private nuisance, does the claimant need to show that the defendant had a property interest in the land?

 

19 / 23

Which four factors indicate that a defendant's actions are 'reasonable' for the purposes of private and public nuisance?

20 / 23

What does it mean if the defendant adopted a private nuisance?

21 / 23

Can a person sue in private nuisance if they do not have a property interest in affected land?

 

22 / 23

Who can bring an action for public nuisance? (Two answers)

23 / 23

What must be shown to establish public nuisance?

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