Fletcher v. Rylands – Case Brief

Fletcher v. Rylands, 3 H. & C. 774, 159 Eng Rep 737 (Ex. 1865).

Case Summary

Facts: Rylands (D) possessed a piece of property but did not have rights to the mines and veins of coal under the surface. Fletcher (P) possessed coal mines located near Ryland’s property. D constructed a reservoir on his property above an abandoned coal mine that was connected to P’s mines below the surface. The shafts of the abandoned mine below D’s property had been filled in with soil and D did not know or suspect that there was an abandoned mine below the surface.

When the reservoir was filled, water flowed into P’s mines causing the mine to shut down. P sued D for damages and lost profits.

Issue: Can a party be liable for trespass for damage caused to the land of another, if the damage is a result of a defect in the party’s land, if the party did not know of the defect?

Holding and Rule: No. There must be negligence to create a liability. If there is no negligence, the loss falls upon the damaged party. D was not liable for the damage cased to P’s land because there was no trespass. To be liable for trespass, the damage would have had to have been immediate. Since in this case the damage was consequential rather than immediate there was no trespass. D was not liable in this case because he was not aware of any damage to his land.

Disposition: For D; no trespass.

Notes: See Rylands v. Fletcher for the results of Fletcher’s appeal.

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