Nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher—common law liability for pollution
Nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher—common law liability for pollution

The following Environment practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher—common law liability for pollution
  • Private nuisance
  • The rule in Rylands v Fletcher
  • Damage must be reasonably foreseeable
  • Transco—criteria for Rylands v Fletcher liability
  • Rylands v Fletcher and fire
  • Rylands v Fletcher and vibrations
  • Successors in title
  • Potential defences to liability under 'the rule in Rylands v Fletcher'

Private nuisance

Private nuisance is an unlawful interference with a person's use or enjoyment of land or some right over or in connection with it. Interference must be unreasonable, and may be caused, eg by water, smoke, smell, fumes, gas, noise, heat or vibrations.

Where the defendant has not caused the nuisance, but merely permitted it to continue, then proof of negligence is required. Liability only arises where the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to abate the nuisance once it knew or ought to have known about it.

Pollution of ground or surface water that flows through the property of another constitutes a nuisance. In Willis v Derwentside District Council, the council was liable in nuisance for gas escaping not only from its land, but also from gas merely passing through the property in underground pipes.

The duty to abate a nuisance is not limited to solving the physical nuisance. In Willis, despite having completed remedial work, the Council continued to be liable until it issued a certificate of completion for the work and provided an adequate undertaking in relation to future monitoring.

For more on private nuisance, see Practice Notes:

  1. Private nuisance—general principles

  2. Nuisance—establishing a claim for private nuisance

  3. Nuisance—what are public and private nuisance claims? and

  4. Neighbour disputes—noise and nuisance

The rule in Rylands v Fletcher

Under Rylands v Fletcher the occupier of land who

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