N.B. This article is particular to Nigeria.
Strict liability makes a person responsible for the loss or damages caused by his or her own acts and omission regardless of culpability which would normally be expressed through a Mens rea requirement. Strict liability is important in tort, corporation law and criminal law.
Strict liability is the legal responsibility for damages or injury even if the person found liable was not at fault or negligent. In addition, certain activities may be conducted by persons only if they are willing to insure others from the harm that results from the risk of such activity.
In tort law, strict liability has traditionally been applied for damages caused to animals. Because animals are not governed by a conscience and possess great capacity to do mischief if not restrained, thus those who keep animals have a duty to restrain them. In general rule, keeper of animals are liable for damages resulting from trespass of their animals.
THE RULE IN RYLAND V. FLETCHER
The rule in this case is the most often quoted example of strict liability. Basically, it stated that an occupier of a land who brings upon it anything likely to do damage if it escapes and keeps it on the land, will be liable for any damage caused by an escape.
Ryland v. Fletcher, is a landmark English law tort case. It applies the doctrine of strict liability for inherently dangerous activities. On appeal by Ryland, the house of lords confirmed the previous judgement but restricted the rule to a NON-NATURAL USE OF THE LAND. It established a rule arguably distinct from the tort of nuisance. The so-called Ryland’s rule has in Australia become absorbed into the ordinary law of negligence, with all the requirements of duty of care, test of reasonableness of care and proximity.
The dispute in Ryland v. Fletcher concerned then escape of water onto the neighbor’s land. Then application of the Ryland rule has been an important step in the development of legal policy relating to modern industry, risk allocation and negligence. The rule is strict in the sense that it relives the claimant of the burden of showing fault.
SCOPE OF THE RULE
A. Things within the rule which according to Blackburn j. includes “anything likely to do mischief if it escapes
B. Bringing on the land and accumulation
D. Non-natural users
APPLICATION OF THE RULE IN NIGERIA
The hazards of pollution associated with the oil industry and rapid growth of manufacturing activities in Nigeria, since the late 1960 would seem to have ensured an important role for the Ryland v. fletcher principle, surprisingly, there are few cases in which the principle has been invoked. The most significant which is Umudje v. Shell B.P petroleum co.
These defenses are briefly as follows:
- CONSENT OF THE PLAINTIFF: where the plaintiff has expressly or impliedly consented to the source of danger, the defendant is not liable unless he has been negligent. As in Carstairs v. Taylor. This attracts the application of the maxim VOLENTI NON FIT INJURIA. The defense is most often applied in the cases where a tenant in a block of flat suffers damages as result of water escaping from an upper floor. The rationale behind this rule is that the water had been brought to the building for the mutual benefit of both parties and therefore, there is no sufficient reason why the risk of accident should lie on the upper rather than the lower.
- DEFAULT OF THE PLAINITFF: It was suggested in Ryland v. Fletcher, that there would be no liability if the escape was as a result of the plaintiff’s own default. Thus, in a case where the worked a mine under the defendant’s canal, indifferent to the risk of flooding, the defendant was no liable for the escape of the water from the canal. Alternatively, where the plaintiff’s attitude amounts to negligence, the statutory apportionment rule will apply.
- ACT OF GOD: where the escape is the result of the operation of natural forces free from human intervention, the defense of act of god may be available. Thus, an escape caused by an extra ordinary violent storm, wind or tide may not be actionable. However, the court has kept this defense within a narrow confine and there appears to be only one reported case in which it has been allowed. Thus, in the case of Nicholas v. Marshland, the defendant had for many years been in possession of some artificial pool formed by damming a natural stream. An extra ordinary rain broke down the embankment and swept away some bridges of the plaintiff. It was held that the defendant was not liable for the damages because there has been no negligence on his part.
- STATUTORY AUTHORITY: sometimes public authorities charged within performing a particular service are exempted from liability provided they have not been negligent.
- ACTS OF STRANGER: it is a defense to liability under Ryland v. Fletcher that the escape complained of was caused by the deliberate act of a stranger which could not reasonably have been anticipated by the defendant. For instance: in Mandray v. Texacoine , an oil company was not liable for an escape of oil and consequent damage to the crops of neighboring landowners which was caused by an unknown trespasser drilling holes into the pipes. In Box v. Jubb, the owner of a reservoir was not liable for the flooding a neighboring land cause by the act of a third party in emptying his reservoir into theirs. For the defense to lie, the act must be deliberate and conscious, however, this has been criticized that the basis of the defense is the absence of any control by the defendant over the unforeseen acts of the stranger.
The rule in Ryland v. fletcher is not a tort rationale per se and so damages must be proved. As to what type of injury are compensable the harm primarily protected by the tort is damage to land, building and thereon. The plaintiff may also recover for harm to chattel as seen in Jones v. Festiniog.
Contributed by: Abdulganiyu Ismail (AKA) Mastermind
Prepared and Written by: Ucheakonam Chijioke Joshua (CJ)