Ryland - HardleyLaw


Ryland’s v Fletcher – discuss the extent to which the tort of Ryland’s v Fletcher can still be accurately referred to as a tort of strict liability

Defined ‘as the person who, for purposes of his own, brings on his land, and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escape, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, his prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequences of its escape.’ It is the unnatural use of the land which causes damage to the claimants land or property.

It is to be of strict liability but is argued to be a type of nuisance used to cover isolated escapes.

There are many defences for this area of tort so it is strict liability in the sense that the claimant need not prove fault, although if the use of the land is natural then any action will fail. This case previously distinguished from nuisance which required the factor of foreseeability where Ryland’s v

Fletcher did not. The case Cambridge water co. V eastern counties leather plc 1994 suggests that the element of foreseeability should actually be required. Later to be a point confirmed in Transco

plc v Stockport metropolitan borough council. However judges have limited strict liability by restricting the usage of the rule to escape from land only Read v Lyons 1947 but also the unique or special use of the land in which endangers others as a direct result.

Not a straightforward although an extension of nuisance, claimants may recover costs even if they are not occupiers of the land. Four key element s to determining the liability to the defendant include whether it was their action of bringing the object causing the tort onto their land, was the item known to cause mischief if it escapes, how it amount s to non-natural use of the land and if the thing actually escaped causing damage.

If the item which causes mischief is already present on the land, naturally, then there can be no liability although any nuisance may be possible leaky v national trust 1980. The person bringing the thing on the land need not be the owner or occupier of the land however the defendant must have a purpose for bringing it onto the land but doesn’t have to be for their benefit. The escape can be of something other than the thing bought onto the land for example in miles v forest rock granite co.

1917 where explosives used in blasting caused rocks to escape.

To determine whether the object is likely to do mischief if it escapes suggests escape need not be probable, but it also doesn’t need to be dangerous by itself shiffman v order of st John. Although there must be foreseeable harm if it does escape and even people have been held as dangerous A.G.

V Corke 1933

A court must decide whether the object is or is not a natural fixture to the land. Any non natural use is the movement of an item onto the land which it wasn’t originally from. The term ‘use’ of land is meant extraordinary rather than artificial. Domestic use is normally considered natural as with

Collingwood v home and colonial stores ltd 1936 with electricity. However natural use of the land is sometimes considered to be applied to commercial premises, although unusual volume or quantity indicates a non natural use. The context of the use of land may also make the use of land non natural mason v levy auto parts of England 1967 although if it’s for the public’s benefit from the activity it may make it natural. However some activities will be seen as a non natural use despite being a public benefit for examples the use of chemicals in Cambridge water 1994

The original rule for liability was not rigidly restricted to neighbouring landowners and was limited in

read v Lyons 1947. This case also limited the terminology of escape to ‘from a place where the defendant has occupation or control over land to a place which is outside of his occupation or control’. Although escape has also been defined as’ from a set of circumstances over which the defendant has control to a set where he does not’, stated in’ Celanese v A H hunt 1969

Possible claimants vary according to the judge depending upon their interpretation of the law. And a successful claim for economic loss is less likely Weller v foot and mouth disease research clinic

1966. The tort isn’t actionable per se so damage must be proven, although there isn’t liability for mere interference with the enjoyment of land as there is with nuisance. The defendant must know or ought to reasonably foresee that damage of the relevant kind might be a consequence of the escape; this is remoteness as in negligence and seems inconsistent with strict liability.

Many defences are available for this tort which could arguably undermine the effectiveness of the tort; consent is applicable to persons occupying tall buildings as seen in peters v Prince of Wales

theatre 1943. A defence for this tort is considered acceptable when a common benefit occurs. No liability would be applied if the source of danger is kept for both the defendant and claimant. Acts of strangers over whom the defendant exercises no control causes the escape then no liability is applied as shown during Perry v Kendrick’s transport ltd 1956. Act of god is also applicable during acts of nature when no human foresight could guard against. Contributory negligence can reduce the damages awarded if the claimant is partly to blame for the tort eastern and SA telegraph co. V

Cape Town tramways 1902. However statutory authority can also be a defence if it was the duty of the defendant to carry out the tort green v Chelsea waterworks co. 1894.

Changes have occurred within the tort that may be argued to have limited the strict liability it imposed. Often this tort is seen as an extension of nuisance leaving no general strict liability for hazardous activities.

The main principle is constantly being limited to new rules being added by judges through the precedent set. Having bought in the rules for non natural use of the land and the requirement of foreseeability in Cambridge waters. The breath of defences allows the defendant the fairness of defending his/her actions although this can undermine the strict liability element of the tort. Being liable for their own actions can either be dramatically reduced or completely dismissed due to other factors. This could be seen as a flaw in the legal system for claimants whom have still received the damage due to the tort committed by the defendant. Furthermore it undermines the key elements and aims of tort law; to deter and compensate. The defence’s available mean defendants are more likely to commit the torts with the belief that they are able to get away with their actions and it fails to compensate the claimants appropriately if the defendant’s defences of contributory negligence or consent are taken into consideration during the case.