Rylands v. Fletcher - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 433 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Legal Case Summary: Landmark English tort case that established a strict liability rule known as the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.


The defendant, Mr. Rylands, had a reservoir constructed on his land. During its construction, workers discovered but failed to seal old mine tunnels beneath. When the reservoir was filled, water flooded through the tunnels into the plaintiff's adjacent coal mines. Rylands had no specific knowledge of the danger nor did he act maliciously or negligently (Owen, 2015).


The core legal issue considered by the court was whether or not a party could be held liable for the consequences of a lawful act on his land that unintentionally resulted in damage to another's property, even in absence of negligence or malice (Beever, 2007).


Rylands v. Fletcher remains one of the cardinal episodes in the development of English Tort Law. Despite academic disagreement and attempts to assimilate it within the ambit of nuisance or negligence, the rule persists as an independent principle. The case represents a significant limit on absolute property rights, proportionately balanced by considerations of social utility. Its application has been extended and limited by various subsequent cases and statutes, exerting a notable impact on the landscape of contemporary tort law (Witting, 2015).


The House of Lords ruled that since Rylands had used his land in an uncommon and dangerous manner, he must be held accountable for the consequences of such usage, regardless of negligence or malice. In essence, the court established the rule in Rylands v Fletcher and its associated strict liability for unusual and dangerous usage of land (Lunney & Oliphant, 2013).


  • Beever, A. (2007). Rediscovering the Law of Negligence. Hart Publishing.
  • Lunney, M., & Oliphant, K. (2013). Tort Law: Text and Materials. Oxford University Press.
  • Owen, D.G. (2015). Philosophical Foundations of Tort Law. Oxford University Press.
  • Witting, C. (2015). Liability for Negligent Affirmations: a Historical and Comparative View. Cambridge Law Journal 74(3)

Journalist Brief

In the iconic case of Rylands v Fletcher, Mr. Rylands constructed a reservoir on his land, unintentionally causing water to flood into neighbouring coal mines due to undiscovered, old mine tunnels. Despite no faulty action or intent, the top-tier UK court held him responsible for the damage, creating a new responsibility known as strict liability. This crucial case established that those who use their property in unusual and hazardous ways are accountable for any resulting damage, shaping the course of UK property and tort laws further (Witting, 2015).


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