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Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan [1940] AC 880   House of Lords

The council undertook some work on the defendant’s land at the request of a neighbouring landowner. They had placed a culvert in a ditch to allow the water to drain away, however, they had negligently placed a grate in the wrong place which rendered the grate useless and the culvert became prone to blockages. The defendant’s workers had cleaned the culvert periodically over a three year period to prevent blockages. However, a heavy rain storm caused a blockage and the ditch became flooded. The flood spread to neighbouring property owned by the claimant and caused substantial damage. The claimant brought an action in nuisance for the damage caused. The defendant argued that he had neither consented to nor had knowledge of the existence of the culvert.

Held:

The defendant was liable. An occupier may be liable for the acts of a trespasser if they adopt or continue the nuisance.

Lord Maugham:

“My Lords, in the present case I am of opinion that the Respondents both continued and adopted the nuisance. After the lapse of nearly three years they must be taken to have suffered the nuisance to continue; for they neglected to take the very simple step of placing a grid in the proper place which would have removed the danger to their neighbour s land. They adopted the nuisance for they continued during all that time to use the artificial contrivance of the conduit for the purpose of getting rid of water from their property without taking the proper means for rendering it safe.”
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