What happened in the case Rylands vs. Fletcher? Why was the decision by the judge precedent setting?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This case was litigated in England in 1868.  In the case, the defendant was a mill owner who constructed a reservoir to provide water for the mill.  The plaintiff was a coal mine owner.

When the reservoir was dug, it came in contact with some old mine shafts.  The defendant thought they were harmless because they were filled with soil.  But the reservoir broke through the soil and flooded the mine.

The judge ruled that the defendant was liable for damages.  This was because of a concept known as "strict liability."  It states that if you have something on your property that can cause harm if it gets out, you are responsible for what happens if it does get out.  The only exceptions are if the plaintiff or an "act of God" caused the thing to get off your property.

The case is important because it established the idea of strict liability.

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