The rule deals with damage caused by isolated escapes of dangerous things from a neighbour’s land. This is a very specific type of nuisance and comes from a single case that gives this tort its name.
RYLANDS V FLETCHER 1868
A mill owner had employed independent contractors to build a reservoir on his land to provide water for his mill. During construction, the independent contractors discovered some old shafts and passages of an abandoned coal mine on the defendant’s land, which appeared to be blocked. When the reservoir was filled, the water burst through the old shafts, which were subsequently found to connect with the claimant's mine. As a result, the claimant's mine was flooded and he sought compensation.
The person is liable for this tort when he/she collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, and this does escape causing foreseeable damage
How to bring a claim in this tort:
· Claimant needs to have interest in the land affected. Hunter v Canary Wharf (1868)
· Defendant is either the accumulator or occupier of the land the dangerous thing was accumulated on. Read v Lyons (1947)
For a claim in Rylands v Fletcher, a claimant will have to show that:
1. A thing was brought and accumulated on the defendant’s land. This means that it must be something that is brought on to the land. It cannot be something it is naturally found there For example:
2. The thing will be likely to cause mischief if it escapes
Hale v Jennings Bros (1938) (see summary below)
3. The thing itself need not be inherently dangerous
Shiffman v Grand Priory (1936)
FACTS: flag pole belonging to the defendant fell and hit the claimant.
HELD: The defendant was liable to pay damages for the personal injury. While a flag pole is not inherently dangerous it is likely to do mischeif if it escapes. In this case it did escape and caused foreseeable damage.
4. The thing escaping causes damage
Read v Lyons (1947)
FACTS: The defendant employed the claimant in their factory which made explosives. While the claimant was working an explosion occurred which killed a man and injured others including the claimant. There was no evidence that negligence had caused the explosion.
HELD: A claim under Ryland v Fletcher failed as the dangerous thin (in this case the fire) did not escape from the property.
5. There must be an escape but
British Celanese v Hunt (1969)
FACTS: Metal foil was blown from the defendant’s factory premises on to the claimants property which interrupted their business as machines were brought to to a halt.
HELD: defendant was liable because the 'the thing' came from land controlled by the defendant.
b. or from circumstances over which D has control
Hale v Jennings (1938)
FACTS: The defendant ran a chair-o-plane roundabout at a fairground. One of the chairs flew off and injured the claimant.
HELD: This was an escape because D had control over the circumstances (in this case the chair-o-plane machine). Note a similar case is unlikely to succeed now as personal injury claims are no longer allowed under Rylands v Fletcher (see below).
7. The harm must be foreseeable
Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather (1994)
FACTS: The defendant was the owner of a leather tanning business. Small quantities of solvents spilled over an extended period of time and seeped through the floor and into the claimant's water company which supplyed water to local residents. The water became dangerously contaminated and Cambridge Water brought actions based on negligence, nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.
HELD: The defendants were not liable because the damage was too remote. It was not reasonably foreseeable that the spillages would result in this particular type of damage. Also the use of the land was natural (see below for further explanation).
8. The use of land must be non-natural:
Use should be ‘extraordinary and unusual considering time and place’
Transco v Stockport MBC (2004)
FACTS: The council were in charge of maitaining pipe work supplying water to a block of flats. There was a leak which went undetected for a long period of time and water collected at an embankment which then collapsed leaving gas mains exposed and unsupported. Since this was a serious and immediate risk, the claimant took action to tackle the danger and sued to recover the cost.
HELD: The defendant was not liable. The council’s use of land was not a 'non-natural' use. This tort can only succeed when the use is shown to be extraordinary and unusual.
A potentially dangerous activity:
A dangerous activity is more likely to be considered to be unnatural.
Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather (1994) (see above)
Things stored in large quantities:
If things are strored in very large quantities they are more likely to be considered unnatural.
Mason v Levy (1967)
FACTS: The defendant accumulated a large quantity of scrap tyres which caught fire which then spread to the neighbour's land.
HELD: The owner was liable because the quantity made the accumulation non natural.
9. Claims are unlikely to be permitted for personal injury
In Cambridge Water Co v Eastern Counties Leather plc  it was decided that Rylands v Fletcher is 'a special form of nuisance' and therefore it was not available for cases involving personal injury this was later confirmed in Transco v Stockport MBC (2004).
The person is liable for this tort when he/she collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, and this does escape causing foreseeable damage. You must prove: