Torts II, Pages 740–745

Rylands v. Fletcher

House of Lords, 1868


Defendants owned a mill and built a reservoir on nearby land to supply it with water. Plaintiff worked in a nearby mine, which had some abandoned and filled-up shafts attached to it. These shafts happened to be right below defendants' reservoir, and when they partially filled it, the bottom gave way and the water flooded plaintiffs' mine.

Procedural History:

  • In the Exchequer of Pleas, judgment was given for the defendants. Defendants could not have been negligent because there was no immediate damage as required for trespass nor any unreasonableness as of a nuisance.

  • The Court of Exchequer Chamber overturned the Exchequer of Pleas, holding that one is prima facie liable for the escaping of things likely to do mischief.


What is the obligation of one who lawfully brings something onto his land that would be naturally bring mischief if it were to escape?


Case law supports that if one had a field with water building up on it naturally, he would not be responsible for where it flowed, but if they artificially increased the amount of water and it flooded another's field, the person who caused it is responsible. Likewise, defendants undertook this activity at their own risk and should be responsible for its damage.


Page 743, Top

"[T]he person who, for his own purposes, brings on his land 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 primâ facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape."