Tort 11 The law of nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher

Terms in this set (168)

The defendant was not liable as it had a defence of statutory authority.

Lord Wilberforce:

"The respondent alleges a nuisance by smell, noise, vibration, etc. The facts regarding these matters are for her to prove. It is then for the appellants to show, if they can, that it was impossible to construct and operate a refinery upon the site conforming with Parliament's intention, without creating the nuisance alleged, or at least a nuisance. Involved in this issue would be the point discussed by Cumming Bruce LJ in the Court of Appeal, that the establishment of an oil refinery, etc. was bound to involve some alteration of the environment and so the standard of amenity and comfort which neighbouring occupiers might expect. To the extent that the environment has been changed from that of a peaceful unpolluted countryside to an industrial complex (as to which different standards apply Sturges v. Bridgman (1879) 11 Ch.D.852) Parliament must be taken to have authorised it. So far, I venture to think, the matter is not open to doubt. But in my opinion the statutory authority extends beyond merely authorising change in the environment and an alteration of standard. It confers immunity against proceedings for any nuisance which can be shown (the burden of so showing being upon the appellants) to be the inevitable result of erecting a refinery upon the site not, I repeat, the existing refinery, but any refinery however carefully and with however great a regard for the interest of adjoining occupiers it is sited, constructed and operated. To the extent and only to the extent that the actual nuisance (if any) caused by the actual refinery and its operation exceeds that for which immunity is conferred, the plaintiff has a remedy.
Electricity company caused structural damage to a house and nuisance to its occupier. The trial judge awarded damages but refused an injunction. The CA reversed this allowing an injunction.

Many judges have stated, and I emphatically agree with them, that a person by committing a wrongful act (whether it be a public company for public purposes or a private individual) is not thereby entitled to ask the Court to sanction his doing so by purchasing his neighbour's rights, by assessing damages in that behalf, leaving his neighbour with the nuisance, or his lights dimmed, as the case may be. In such cases the well-known rule is not to accede to the application, but to grant the injunction sought, for the plaintiff's legal right has been invaded, and he is prima facie entitled to an injunction.

There are, however, cases in which this rule may be relaxed, and in which damages may be awarded in substitution for an injunction as authorized by this section. In any instance in which a case for an injunction has been made out, if the plaintiff by his acts or laches has disentitled himself to an injunction the Court may award damages in its place. So again, whether the case be for a mandatory injunction or to restrain a continuing nuisance, the appropriate remedy may be damages in lieu of an injunction, assuming a case for an injunction to be made out.

In my opinion, it may be stated as a good working rule that --

(1) If the injury to the plaintiff's legal rights is small,

(2) And is one which is capable of being estimated in money,

(3) And is one which can be adequately compensated by a small money payment,

(4) And the case is one in which it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction: --

then damages in substitution for an injunction may be given.

There may also be cases in which, though the four above-mentioned requirements exist, the defendant by his conduct, as, for instance, hurrying up his buildings so as if possible to avoid an injunction, or otherwise acting with a reckless disregard to the plaintiff's rights, has disentitled himself from asking that damages may be assessed in substitution for an injunction.
In the case of a transitory nuisance, the capital value of the property will seldom be reduced. But the owner or occupier is entitled to compensation for the diminution in the amenity value of the property during the period for which the nuisance persisted. To some extent this involves placing a value upon intangibles. e.g. smell of neighbouring pigs in Bone v. Seale [1976]

There may of course be cases in which, in addition to damages for injury to his land, the owner or occupier is able to recover damages for consequential loss. He will, for example, be entitled to loss of profits which are the result of inability to use the land for the purposes of his business. Or if the land is flooded, he may also be able to recover damages for chattels or livestock lost as a result. But inconvenience, annoyance or even illness suffered by persons on land as a result of smells or dust are not damage consequential upon the injury to the land. It is rather the other way about: the injury to the amenity of the land consists in the fact that the persons upon it are liable to suffer inconvenience, annoyance or illness.

It follows that damages for nuisance recoverable by the possessor or occupier may be affected by the size, commodiousness and value of his property but cannot be increased merely because more people are in occupation and therefore suffer greater collective discomfort. If more than one person has an interest in the property, the damages will have to be divided among them.

Once it is understood that nuisances "productive of sensible personal discomfort" do not constitute a separate tort of causing discomfort to people but are merely part of a single tort of causing injury to land, the rule that the plaintiff must have an interest in the land falls into place as logical and, indeed, inevitable.
although bringing things onto land for the purposes of provided public utilities (water, gas etc.) is arguably for the entire public's benefit, such accumulations still fall under the rule, as the relevant companies are accumulating for their own purposes.

Fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems have been held to fall outside the principle.

degree of care which that duty involves must be proportioned to the degree of risk involved if the duty should not be fulfilled.

appellants were carrying gas at high pressure which was very dangerous, if it should escape, they owed a duty to the owners of the hotel, to exercise reasonable care and skill that the owners should not be damaged. The degree of care which that duty involved must be proportioned to the degree of risk involved. The City might at any time be conducting operations in connection with their sewers in the vicinity of the appellants' mains, and it was the duty of the appellants to watch such operations.

The operations in question were, from their public nature and conspicuous character and from the time during which they went on, such that a failure by the appellants to know of them was plainly not consistent with due care on their part in the interests of members of the public likely to be affected.

Although under the exception to the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher (1868) L. R. 3 H. L. 330, the appellants would not be liable for damages caused, without default on their part, by the independent, conscious act of a third party, they were negligent in failing to foresee and guard against the consequences to their works of the City's operations.
Article 8
The Court noted that the Government had acknowledged that, overall, the level of noise during the quota period (11.30 p.m. to 6 a.m.) had increased under the 1993 scheme. The Court also observed that, as Heathrow airport and the aircraft which used it were not owned, controlled or operated by the Government or by any agency of the Government, the United Kingdom could not be said to have "interfered" with the applicants' private or family life.

However the State had a positive duty to take reasonable and appropriate measures to secure the applicants' rights under Article 8 and to strike a fair balance between the competing interests of the individual and of the community as a whole. In the particularly sensitive field of environmental protection, mere reference to the economic well-being of the country was not sufficient to outweigh the rights of others. States were required to minimise, as far as possible, the interference with these rights, by trying to find alternative solutions and by generally seeking to achieve their aims in the least onerous way as regards human rights. In order to do that, a proper and complete investigation and study with the aim of finding the best possible solution which would, in reality, strike the right balance, should precede the relevant project.


In conclusion, the Court considered that, in implementing the 1993 scheme, the State failed to strike a fair balance between the United Kingdom's economic well-being and the applicants' effective enjoyment of their right to respect for their homes and their private and family lives. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 8.
established the principle that claims under nuisance and Rylands v Fletcher must include a requirement that the damage be foreseeable; it also suggested that Rylands was a sub-set of nuisance rather than an independent T, a debate eventually laid to rest in Transco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.

Based on the original decision in Rylands, Goff argued that it had always been intended for foreseeability of harm to be a factor, something not previously put into law by the English judiciary. He then stated that Rylands was arguably a sub-set of nuisance, not an independent T, and as such the factors which led him to including a test of foreseeability of harm in Rylands cases also imposed such a test on all nuisance cases.

" . It could not be right to discriminate between different cases of nuisance so as to make foreseeability a necessary element in determining damages in those cases where it is a necessary element in determining liability, but not in others" . . If, as Goff was stating, Rylands was an element of nuisance, this decision should apply to it.[12] In the original judgment in Rylands, the judge had stated that it covered " . anything likely to do mischief if it escapes" . , and that liability should be to " . answer for the natural and anticipated consequences" . ; this wording implies that he intended for " . knowledge to be a prerequisite for liability" .

Eastern Counties Leather were not liable as the damage was too remote. It was not reasonably foreseeable that the spillages would result in the closing of the borehole. The foreseeability of the type of damage is a pre-requisite of liability in actions of nuisance and claims based on the rule in Rylands v Fletcher in the same way as it applies to claims based in N.
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