A person is generally; liable for all the wrongs committed by him. However,
there are certain instances where an individual can be prosecuted for an event
despite taking necessary precautions and with no fault or intentions on his
part. Strict liability is one such principle that makes a person accountable by
recognizing ' no fault liability'.
It was the judgment given in the landmark case of Ryland v Fletcher which laid
down this legal doctrine that incurs liability on a party without the plaintiff
having to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.
Ryland v. Fletcher And The Rule Of Strict Liability
Citation: [1868 ] L. CITAR. 3 H.L. 330
Name Of Parties: Petitioner: Ryland v/s Respondent: Fletcher
Judges: Lord Cairns and Lord Cranworth
The defendant got a reservoir constructed over his land to provide water to his
mill through an independent contractor. The old disused shafts which had been
present under the reservoir were not noticed by the contractors as a result,
they remained unblocked. When water was filled in the reservoir, it burst
through the shafts and gushed to the adjoining coal mines of the plaintiff,
damaging his property.
The defendant who possessed no knowledge of the shafts was not negligent on his
- Was the defendant's use of land unreasonable?
- Should he be made for all the damages caused to the plaintiff?
The Court Of Liverpool
The Court of Liverpool sided with the defendant declaring him not guilty and
further held that there was neither any trespass nor any nuisance.
Later, an arbitrator who was appointed in December 1864 by court order also
declared that the defendant can't be held liable as he wasn't aware of the mine
shafts, further it was the independent contractors who were negligent as they
failed to block the shafts.
Court Of Exchequer Pleas
The Court of Exchequer entertained the appeal from the lower court and sided
with the view that the defendant could not be held liable for the acts of the
independent contractors. However, they had mixed opinions on the matter of
whether the defendant was liable for the damage sustained by the plaintiff or
Court Of Exchequer Chamber
unsatisfied with the decision of the lower court, Fletcher appealed to the Court
of Exchequer Chamber. The six judges of the chamber overturned the decision of
the lower court establishing the principle of Strict Liability which states that
if a person makes non-natural use of land or brings any dangerous thing onto his
premises which on escaping causes damage, then that individual will be liable
for all the damage sustained by the plaintiff.
House Of Lords
The House of Lords did not entertain Ryland's appeal and agreed with the verdict
given by the Court Of Exchequer Chamber.
Essential Elements Of Strict Liability
There must be the presence of 3 essential elements to constitute strict
liability. They are as follows:
- Dangerous Thing
Some dangerous thing must have been brought by a person on his land. Some
examples of Dangerous things are- toxic gases, rusty wires, explosives, etc.
illustration: the defendant planted poisonous trees on his land whose
branches protruded into the neighbour's house. The plaintiff's cattle died
after consuming the leaves of the trees. The court held the defendant liable
for the same.
The dangerous thing brought by a person on his land must also escape the
premises to be out of the reach and control of the defendant. In the case of
Mrs Read v Lyons & Co, it was held that since there was no escape of
dangerous things, therefore, there was no liability on the part of the
- Non-natural Use Of Land
Finally, to make a person strictly liable, the defendant must make a
non-natural use of his land which must be bringing with it increased danger
to others. In the case of T.C. Balakrishnan Menon v. T.R. Subramanian,
it was held that the use of explosives in an open ground even on a day of
the festival is a non-natural use of land.
There are 5 defences that a person can plead in a court of law to escape from
being held strictly liable. they are as follows:
- Plaintiff's own default
A plaintiff can not claim compensation for the loss sustained by him because
of his very own actions. In the case of Ponting v. Noakes, the
defendant was not held liable for the death of the plaintiff's horse who
trespassed on his land and nibbled on the leaves of poisonous trees, as it
was the plaintiff who was in wrong.
- Act of God
No liability can arise from acts or events which are beyond the control of
any human agency and are known as 'Acts of god'. The very same principle was
applied in the case of Nikolas v Marshland where an extraordinary
rain destroyed the defendant's embankment because of which the plaintiff's
property was flooded by water causing a lot of damage to him.
- Consent Of Plaintiff
When a plaintiff consents to the presence or accumulation of dangerous thing
on the defendant's premises, he gives up his right to claim compensation, in
case he suffers any loss. This legal doctrine was applied in the case of
Carstairs v. Taylor.
- Act Of 3rd Party
A person can not be made liable for the acts committed by a 3rd party. In
the case of Box v. Jubb, the drainage system of the defendant's
reservoir was clogged by a 3rd party which caused the water to overflow. The
court of law didn't hold the defendant liable for the same.
- Statutory Authority
The principle of strict liability can not be applied in cases where an
individual suffers damage by an act that has been authorized by the
The principle proposed in the landmark case of Ryland v. Fletcher
pivotal role in resolving disputes where a party suffers damage despite the
defendant not being negligent. It is of utmost relevance in today's era of
globalization where a person can be made accountable for bringing dangerous
thing onto his premises which causes loss to others on escaping.
Written By: Aina Islam