Rylands v Fletcher in the 21st Century

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Does the Rule in Rylands v Fletcher still have any useful role to play in the 21st Century? To define specifically what a field of law encompasses, be it tort or any of the other fields that the law branches into, can tend to be rather difficult. The definition of the law of tort can be interpreted as an on-going materialization of our civil wrongs and its effects on our society. Our modern society is ever-changing, which in turn means that the issues that arise in our society are also changing.

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Due to the unpredictability of these issues, the law has to merge and evolve to meet the requirements imposed on by our society. The decision that arose from the dispute in Rylands v Fletcher[1] ushered in and established a new area in the law of tort in order to remedy the disputes that arose in regards to strict liability. Controversy in regards to the ruling that arose from Rylands and Fletcher has been on-going since the late 19th century as more and more disputes in regards to strict liability have used the rule in Rylands for their claims. While some very recent cases have seen the rule in Rylands being used, many scholars and judges condemn its use and role in our modern day society and cite that it would harm us economically and that the ruling arose from the case was poor. Countries such Australia have completely abolished the ruling and instead depend on the tort of nuisance to find a ruling in regards to similar disputes[2]. By assessing the reasoning behind the ruling, merits and demerits/faults in Rylands v Fletcher with the use of relevant case law, statues and legal journals a clearer consensus in regards to its usefulness in the 21st century can be drawn out. As the law was developing in the late 19th century multiple aspects of society were developing as-well. The industrial revolution had started and multiple incidents that included deaths, accidents and damage to property had occurred[3]. Fault liability, a liability in which the claimant must prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional[4], had made progress in the law as it was used more regularly than strict liability. By the time the ruling in Rylands and Fetcher had come, reconsideration in regards to the importance of the liabilities had commenced. Influenced by the industrial revolution and events that had occurred in regards to water reservoirs[5], Lord Hoffmann and Lord Cairns recognized the necessity for such a controversial ruling and agreed with Blackburn J’s reasoning but altered it slightly by adding the requirement that the use be non-natural[6].This Judgement courted controversy throughout the 20th century with scholars debating its interpretation, but had a common understanding of the pressures the Judges had during the 19th century to further develop the Law of tort.

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