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   Case summaries      Southport Corporation v Esso Petroleum

Southport Corporation v Esso Petroleum [1954] 3 WLR 200  Court of Appeal

The defendant’s oil tanker ran aground in an estuary partly due to weather conditions and partly due to carrying a heavy load and a fault in the steering. The master discharged 400 tons of oil in order to free the tanker. The oil drifted onto the claimant’s land including a marine lake which it had to close until it had been cleaned at a substantial cost to the claimant. The claimant brought an action in negligence and nuisance. The trial judge found for the defendant and the claimant appealed.


Appeal allowed (Morris LJ dissenting) the defendant was liable in negligence and public nuisance.

Lord Denning on private nuisance:

“ In order to support an action on the case for a private nuisance, the defendant must have used his own land or some other land in such a way as injuriously to affect the enjoyment of the plaintiff's land. "The ground of responsibility", said Lord Wright inSedleigh-Denfield v. O'Callaghan, reported in 1940 Appeal Cases at page 903; "is the possession and control of the land from which the nuisance proceeds." Applying this principle, it is clear that the discharge of oil was not a private nuisance, because it did not involve the use by the defendants of any land, but only of a ship at sea.”

Back to lecture outline on nuisance in tort law