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Strict Liability(1)

Strict Liability(1)

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Published by Ng Yih Miin

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Published by: Ng Yih Miin on Mar 27, 2012
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03/27/2012

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A.

STRICT LIABILITY Rylands v Fletcher
The mental state of a defendant in a strict liability action is irrelevant. It is not a requirement that the defendant must intend to do an act which is alleged to give rise to the tort of strict liability. Rylands v Fletcher: the defendant mill owner employed some independent contractors to build a reservoir. Beneath this reservoir were some iron shafts that went through a mining area and which were connected to the plaintiff’s mine. The defendant did not know of the existence of these shafts and the contractors were negligence in not blocking the shafts. The plaintiff’s mine was flooded when the reservoir was filled with water. The House of Lords held them liable to the plaintiff. Blackburn J in the Court of Exchequer Chamber said: The person who for his own purposes brings on his lands 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 prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape. This statement is known as the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The learned judge went on to say that the defendant may avoid liability if he can prove that the escape was due to the plaintiff’s own fault or that it was caused by an act of God.

B. Elements to establish liability
There are 5 elements required to establish liability under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher;
1. Dangerous thing that would likely to cause damage if it

escapes The rule applies to anything that may cause damage if it escapes. Once this element is fulfilled, then that ‘thing’ is a ‘dangerous thing’. The ‘thing’ need not to be dangerous per se (by nature) if properly kept, but are dangerous if they escape. In Ang Hock Tai v Tan Sum Lee & Anor the plaintiff

rented a shop house and lived on the first floor of the building. The ground floor was sublet to the defendant, who was in the business of repairing and distributing tyres. The defendant stored petrol for the purposes of his business. One morning the defendant’s premises caught fire. The fire spread to the first floor and the plaintiff’s wife and child died in the tragedy. The court held that the defendant liable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher as the petrol was a dangerous thing.

2. Intentional storage/Accumulation The defendant will be liable if he has accumulated the thing. If he did not accumulated the thing he may still found liable if he has authorized the accumulation. In any case liability rests in those who have control over the thing. In Pontardawe RDC v Moore-Gwyn due to changes in the weather some rocks from the defendant’s land fell onto the plaintiff’s land. The defendant was not liable as he did not accumulate the rocks. Moreover the escape was not caused by the defendant’s act. however... In Miles v Forest Rock Granite Co Ltd the defendant used some explosives to blast some rocks on his land. Some of the rocks fell onto the land below and injured the plaintiff. The court found that although the rocks were not purposely collected or kept on the land, the explosives were purposely collected and kept. The defendant were held liable for this deliberate accumulation which caused the escape of the rocks, and because the way in which the injury was sustained through rock-blasting, which was not a natural use of land.

3. Escape The plaintiff must prove that there has been an escape from a place where the defendant has control and authority. In Read v J Lyons & Co Ltd an inspector of munitions was injured when a shell that was being manufactured at the defendants factory where she was employed, exploded and caused her substantial injuries. The defendants were not liable as there was no escape.

In Ponting v Noakes the plaintiff’s horse ate the poisonous leaves of a yew tree on the defendant’s land. The court held that there was no escape as the tree did not extend beyond the defendant’s boundary and so the plaintiff failed in his action. however... In Midwood & Co Ltd v Mayor the defendants were held liable when an explosion on their property caused inflammable gas to escape into the plaintiff’s house and consequently set fire to the plaintiff’s property.

4. Non-natural use of land The meaning of non-natural use of land was explained in the case of Rickards v Lothian where Lord Moulton sated: It must be some special use bringing with it increased danger to others and must not merely be the ordinary use of the land or such a use as is proper for the general benefit of the community.

The non-natural use of land has been equated with unreasonable risk in the tort of negligence. Therefore the courts will balance the probability of damage occurring plus the seriousness of the probable damage compared to the social benefit derived from it. The following are examples of non-natural use of land:

In Crowhurst v Amersham Burial Board the defendant planted a yew tree on his land. The branches and leaves of the trees extended into the plaintiff’s land. The plaintiff’s horse died upon eating the leaves. The court held that the defendant liable as planting a poisonous tree is not a natural use of land. This decision may be justified an escape of the tree had occurred as the branches and leaves had encroached onto the plaintiff’s land. In Abdul Rahman bin Che Ngah v Puteh bin Samat the defendant engaged to clear an irrigation canal which went through the plaintiff’s

rubber estate. The work involved clearing bushes and weeds in the stream and on the banks. These bushes and weeds were negligently set on fire by the defendant and the ignition escape on to the plaintiff’s land, destroying rubber trees on it. The court found the defendant liable in negligence and under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher for the escape of fire resulting from a non-natural use of the land.

5. Foreseeability of damage The defendant will not be liable for all consequential damage that results from an escape. The concept of ‘reasonable and foreseeable damage’ as laid down in the case of Wagon Mound is applicable in the tort of strict liability and this has been confirmed by the decision in Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather plc. For liability to arise under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher, the type of damage must be foreseeable. In Cambridge water, the defendant who was a leather manufacturer used a chemical, PCE, in the process if manufacturing. The chemical had been spilled little by little on the concrete floor of their factory. PCE was not soluble in the water and it had seeped through the factory floor until fifty metres below the ground. It had then spread at the rate of eight metres per day until it reached the area the plaintiff used to pump water for the daily consumption of the residents in that area. Although the plaintiff may be able to prove that there is a dangerous thing, that the thing has been actively accumulated and could reasonably be foreseen to escape, and escape in fact occurred, he must also prove that the defendant is using his land for a non-natural purpose, and further, that the type of damage incurred by the plaintiff is reasonably foreseeable.

C. Defences
1. Consent of the plaintiff 2. Common benefit 3. Act of a third party 4. Act of God 5. The plaintiff’s default Look at lecture notes

6. Statutory authority

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