Fletcher v Rylands

Dispute

Defendants engaged in the construction of a reservoir employed contractors who failed to use proper care and skill, and accordingly water broke out of the reservoir and damaged plaintiff’s property.

Question of law

Does a lack of knowledge or intent indemnify a defendant from liability for harm done by their actions? What if the fault lies with their agents? “What is the obligation which the law casts on a person who lawfully brings on his land something which, harmless whilst it remain there, will naturally do mischief if it escape out of his hand?”

Conclusions

The court held that as the plaintiff’s rights had been infringed as a result of actions which would have been unlawful if they had been done intentionally, the defendants ought to be held liable. They knew the mine workings could extend in any direction and therefore they acted at their own peril.

“We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.”

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