Ryland Vs. Fletcher [1868] UKHL 1, (1868) LR 3 HL 330: Case Comment

Case Analysis-Ryland vs. Fletcher

[1868] UKHL 1, (1868) LR 3 HL 330

Author: Prakalp Shrivastava B.A LL.B (2018-2023) Jagran Lakecity University


There is a situation when a person may be liable for some harm even though he is not negligent in causing the same. There is no intention to cause harm. Sometimes he may even have made a positive effort to avert the same.

The rule laid down in RYLAND v. FLETCHER is generally known as the rule of strict liability with certain exceptions.

Background of the case

Ryland vs. Fletcher is one of the most famous and landmark cases in tort. It was an English case in the year 1868 and was the progenitor of the doctrine of Strict Liability for abnormally dangerous conditions and activities. This case paved the way for judgment of many more cases on Nuisance and liability in case of negligence. Even if one is not on fault, he can be held liable for negligence. Strict liability states a person responsible for the damage or loss did occur to others by his or her activity without the concern of elements such as negligence, mensrea and any kind of remote liability.

Facts of the Cases

Both Ryland and Fletcher were neighbors.

Ryland owned a mill for whose energy requirement he constructed a water reservoir on his land. He gave this work to independent contractors and engineers. Due to the negligence of the private contractor, the shafts that led the way to Fletchers mine were broken which led the water into the mine, causing heavy loss to him.

Fletcher sued Ryland.

Issues raised


Animal Cattle Trespass-Damage to Neighbours property –Injury to human-Liability of the owner.

The Court Of Liverpool

This court’s ruling favored the plaintiff on the basis of both nuisance and trespass. Rylands was not satisfied by the decision of this case and thus applied for the case to be heard before the three judges of the exchequer in which he succeeded. The three exchequer judges “overturned the first ruling”. The exchequer judges based their judgment on the idea of trespass requiring direct personal involvement in the invasion of the quiet enjoyment of land. This kind of invasion “required evidence of intent or negligence”.

Court Of Exchequer Chamber

Fletcher was angered by the decision of the three exchequer judges and appealed to the exchequer chamber composed of six judges. The six judges “overturned the previous decision” this time in favor of Fletcher. The judges held thus, “we, the judges of the exchequer think that correct rule of law is that, any person, who for his own intentions brings on his land, accumulates and keeps on the land anything likely to cause trouble if it escapes, must keep it at his own risk, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie (without need for further information), answerable for all the damage which is the natural effect of its escape. He can however excuse himself by proving that the escape was caused by the plaintiff’s default; or possibly, that the escape was a consequence of the act of God” (Fordham Margaret1995)

The judges concluded that “none of these excuses had been proven in the case”, and it was, therefore “unnecessary to find out what another excuse would be sufficient”. The judges, on making their ruling relied on the “basis of the liability for damages of land through the tort of chattel of trespass, the tort of nuisance”, as well as “the scienter action (common law rule that deals with the damages directly done by animals to human beings)” (Duhame.org, 2009). Rylands felt that this was not just. He appealed to the House of Lords.

House Of Lords

The House of Lords dismissed Ryland’s appeal. They agreed with the six exchequer judges but went further to add a limitation on the liability.

Judge(s) sitting   

Lord Cairns, LC Lord Cranworth


There was a question that whether the plaintiff was entitled to get the compensation or not.Mr. Baron gave the judgment in favor of the defendants and held that the plaintiff was not entitled to get the compensation. The court held Ryland liable for the damage done to Fletcher.

It was held that the defendants owed a duty of care towards the risk which he took by doing unnatural use of his land and bringing any object to his land which was not harmful at that time but would be harmful if it escapes.

Even if the defendant was unaware of the fact that there were shafts that could lead water into plaintiffs mine, he is liable. The appellant took the defense that the construction work was being carried by an agency and was inspected by an engineer.

It was said that appellants were not at all part of the work. They also were not subjected to know about the security regarding the construction.

It was held that it does not matter what care did the appellant took but he was responsible for the damage as he brought to his premises such an article which could be dangerous if escapes.

The appeal was dismissed and compensation was given to Fletcher.


Cambridge water co.ltd v. eastern countries leather plc.

Transco plc v. Stockport MBC


The case of Ryland v/s Fletcher “laid the basis on which the person who has suffered can be bona fide to be remedied” (Lillian Munroe, 09). The person “who has suffered damage can be compensated if he can prove damage to his property”.

Case 1: Greenock Corporation v Caledonian Railway [1917] AC 556

According to Willem H. Van Boom (2004), “Greenock Corporation constructed a concrete pool meant for rowing” “by children” in the bed of a stream and so “obstructed the stream from flowing downstream”. At some point, there was extraordinarily heavy rainfall that “led to overflowing from the pool and the property of the plaintiff” (Caledonian railway) “was damaged” (Jackson, Rupert M. Jackson & Powell, 207). The plaintiffs sued for damages. The court held that “the damages were to be paid”. The defendants “had relied on the facts of the case of Rylands and Fletcher” (Helmut Keziol, 26). Their defense was that “the overflow was caused by an act of god but was not found to be sufficient”.

Case 2: Bolton v Stone [1951] AC 850, [1951] 1 All ER 1078

According to Bailii.Org (2009), it was during a game of cricket that Miss Stone “got hit by the cricket ball” in Manchester. The ball “flew from the ground and hit the claimant” that was “standing outside her house” about 100 meters from the cricket field: “the field had been used for cricket since 1864 before the road along which the claimant’s house was built in 1910” (Hodge, Sues, pp 254). The field was surrounded by a fence 3.7m long and, Valerie Hoag, (pp 40) argues that the ground sloped up so that the fence was 5.2m high. The fence was 71m from the batsman who had hit the ball. The ball has rarely been hit out of the field; about six times in thirty years (Valerie Hoag, pp 42).


Act of stranger

If the escape was caused by the act of a stranger over which the defendant has no control, the defendant will escape liability:

Box v Jubb LR 4 Ex Div 76

Perry v Kendricks Transport Limited [1956] 1 ALL ER 154

If however, the act which caused the escape was committed by a person over whom the defendant may exercise some control the defendant may still be liable:

Ribee v Norrie [2000] EWCA Civ 275 C

The wrongful act of a third party

Rickards v Lothian [1913] AC 263

LMS International v Styrene Packaging and Insulation Ltd [2005] EWHC 2065

Act of God

Carstairs v Taylor (1871) LR 6 Ex 217 

Nichols v Marsland (1876) 2 Ex D 1

Statutory authority

Charing Cross Electric Supply Co v Hydraulic Power Co [1914] 3 KB 772

Smeaton v Ilford Corporation [1954] Ch 450

Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co (1894) 70 LT 547


If the claimant receives a benefit from the thing accumulated, they may be deemed to have consented to the accumulation:

Peters v Prince of Wales Theatre [1943] KB 73

Requirements For One To Rely On The Case Of Rylands And Fletcher

  1. the defendant need to have brought something into his land

In the case of Rylands and Fletcher, “the defendant brought water into their land”. The plaintiffs “depended on this fact”.

  • Non-natural use to the land

In our case “the defendants brought in water to their land and this was not the natural user of the land” (Weinrib, Ernest, pp 58).

  • there must be something likely to do mischief

The Court of Exchequer chambers stated that “if a person brings into his land something which is likely to do mischief if it escapes, the person keeps it at his own peril”.

  • Escape

The exchequer court came out clear and stated that “there must be an escape of the dangerous substance”.


Ryland vs. Fletcher paved the way for a new way of deciding cases related to owners’ liability. There was a requirement to have a law that could increase the duty of the owner to take care of. The world is progressing very fast and disputes regarding the duty of care are increasing rapidly so there was a need to put up a law that could sort these problems. This was done in this case. Rule of strict liability was not followed in India but it was modified to absolute liability which is being used nowadays.


Since the application of the doctrine of Rylands v Fletcher has been found wanting in the settlement of cases, it would be imperative that the stakeholders in different countries who are charged with the responsibility of making laws, to look for alternative laws to replace that doctrine. This has earlier been recommended by Shapo (2003) and compliance with that recommendation would be important. They might want to begin with expounding on the negligence laws to make them broader, in order that they may incorporate aspects of the doctrines that are seen to complicate the doctrine’s application.