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Tortious liability under Rylands v Fletcher 
 
 
 
 
Liability under Rylands v Fletcher is now regarded as a particular type of nuisance. It is a form of strict liability, in that the defendant may be liable in the absence of any negligent conduct on their part. Imposing liability without proof of negligence is controversial and therefore a restrictive approach has been taken with regards to liability under Rylands v Fletcher. There have been attempts to do away with liability under Rylands v Fletcher but the House of Lords have retained it.
 
 
 
 
Requirements
 
 
1. Accumulation on the defendant's land
2. A thing likely to do mischief if it escapes
3. Escape
4. Non-natural use of land
5. The damage must not be too remote
 
 
1. Accumulation
 
The defendant must bring the hazardous material on to his land and keep it there.
 
If the thing is already on the land or is there naturally, no liability will arise under Rylands v Fletcher:
 
 
Giles v Walker [1890] 24 QBD 656    Case summary
 
 
 
 
Pontardawe RDC v Moore-Gwyn [1929] 1 Ch 656 Case summary
 
 
 
 
Carstairs v Taylor (1871) LR 6 Ex 217 Case summary
 
 
 
Ellison v Ministry of Defence (1997) 81 BLR 101 Case summary
 
 
The thing must be accumulated for the defendant's own purposes:
 
 
 
Dunne v North West Gas Board [1964] 2 QB 806   Case summary
 
 
 
Pearson v North Western Gas Board [1968] 2 All ER 669  Case summary
 
 
 
The thing that escapes need not be the thing accumulated:
 
 
Miles v Forest Rock Granite (1918) 34 TLR 500     Case summary
 
2. A thing likely to do mischief
 
The thing need not be inherently hazardous, it need only be a thing likely to cause damage if it escapes:
 
 
Hale v Jennings Bros [1938] 1 All ER 579 Case summary
 
Shiffman v The Grand Priory of St John [1936] 1 All ER 557 Case summary
 
 
3. Escape
There must be an escape from the defendant's land. An injury inflicted by the accumulation of a hazardous substance on the land itself will not invoke liability under Rylands v Fletcher:
 
Ponting v Noakes (1849) 2 QB 281    Case Summary
 
 
 
 
The courts have not always strictly applied this requirement:
 
 
Hale v Jennings Bros [1938] 1 All ER 579   Case summary
 
 
Shiffman v The Grand Priory of St John [1936] 1 All ER 557   Case summary
 
 
4. Non-natural use
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ellison v Ministry of Defence (1997) 81 BLR 101   Case summary
 
 
An open fire in a domestic fire grate does not constitute a non-natural use of land:
 
 
Sochacki v Sas [1947] All ER 344   Case summary
 
 
 
 
5. Remoteness of damage
 
 
Liability in Rylands v Fletcher is subject to the rules on remoteness of damage. This point was established in the Cambridge Water case:
 
 
 
 
 
There is no liability for economic loss under Rylands v Fletcher:
 
 
 
Weller v Foot and Mouth Disease Research Institute [1966] 1 QB  569   Case summary
 
 
 
 
Defences
 
 
 
 
 
Act of stranger
 
If the escape was caused by the act of a stranger over which the defendant has no control, the defendant will escape liability:
 
Box v Jubb LR 4 Ex Div 76     Case summary
 
 
 
 
If however, the act which caused the escape was committed by a person over whom the defendant may exercise some control the defendant may still be liable:
 
Ribee v Norrie [2000] EWCA Civ 275 Case summary
 
 
Wrongful act of a third party
 
 
 
 
 
 
Act of God
 
 
Carstairs v Taylor (1871) LR 6 Ex 217    Case summary
 
 
Nichols v Marsland (1876) 2 Ex D 1     Case summary
 
 
 
Statutory authority
 
 
Charing Cross Electric Supply Co v Hydraulic Power Co [1914] 3 KB 772  Case summary
 
 
 
Smeaton v Ilford Corporation [1954] Ch 450    Case summary
 
Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co (1894) 70 LT 547  Case summary
 
Consent/benefit
 
If the claimant receives a benefit from the thing accumulated, they may be deemed to have consented to the accumulation:
 
Peters v Prince of Wales Theatre [1943] KB 73   Case summary
 
Liability under Rylands v Fletcher