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John Rylands and Jehu Horrocks v Thomas Fletcher

United Kingdom
Type of court
National - higher court
Jul 17, 1868
Court name
House of Lords
Seat of court
Cairns L.C., Cranworth
Reference number
[1868] UKHL 1
Legal questions

In this case, the defendant is the owner of a land who decided to employ a contractor to build an irrigation reservoir on its lands. The contractor discovered several old coal shafts that were improperly filled with mining debris but ignored them and finished the construction work. But once the reservoir was filled with water for the first time it broke and flooded the neighbouring mines through the old coal shafts. The owner of the mine sued the defendant asking for damages for nuisances.

The court of first instance judged that the defendant was not liable for the damages because it was resulting from a negligence of the contractor. The Court of Exchequer Chamber (Court of Appeal) overturned this decision and for the first time considered that the defendant was liable for negligence through the tort of chattel trepass and the tort of nuisance, affirming for the first time a right to compensation for environmental damages.

The defendant sough an appeal in front of the House of Lords. The judges of the House of Lords agreed with the decision of the Court of Exchequer and considered that the defendant was liable for the escape of the water and the damage it did to the mine. However, the House of Lords limited the scope of this new liability to cases where the land had been modified in a way which would be considered non-natural, unusual or inappropriate.

Full text
Rylands vs Fletcher.pdf