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Return to Street on Torts 15e student resources

Chapter 18 Guidance on answering the end-of-chapter problem questions

The rule in Rylands v Fletcher

Suit will be available to those who have a sufficient title/interest in land; we must assume that claimants like Mavis will have this in the absence of other evidence. The suit will be against Glug Ltd, from whose premises each of the escapes comes: see Read v J Lyons & Co. The biggest obstacle to suit usually is the need to prove a non-natural use of land. Today, this means a use of exceptionally high danger (Transco v Stockport). This means that, while such things as water, filth and smells were once within the rule (Rylands v Fletcher), this is unlikely to be the case today. Even the making of glue is an accepted use; although there might be an argument that the combination of dead horses, smells, insects and glue (which subsequently sets) is a highly unusual combination so as not really to be ‘accepted’. Glug does accumulate the dead horses (although one would imagine that these are quickly disposed of at the end of each day/week) and the glue itself. Because the glue is liable to setting (and here, with dead horses enveloped by it), this would undoubtedly create a danger for the villagers – who might be unable to open doors, drive their cars etc. There has been an escape of the glue, which washes the dead horses down into the village. The escape itself need not be foreseeable according to Rylands v Fletcher. But the kind of damage which occurs must be foreseeable: Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties. The malfunction of the storage tank does not appear to be the result of the operation of an external force, so no defence of force majeur applies. All in all, this could be the sort of unusual case that gives rise to an action – subject to the non-natural user point.