Cases on the rule in Rylands v Fletcher are rare but occasionally we are reminded that the rule is not yet extinct. In essence, the rule says that someone who adopts a “non-natural” use of their land, for instance by storing on it a large quantity of flammable material that creates a recognisable risk to a neighbour’s land, may be liable if the risk materialises and causes damage to the neighbour’s land. In Harooni v Rustins a fire spread through a number of warehouses, including Rustins’ paint storage warehouse, which contained over 200,000 litres of flammable materials, including 25,000 litres of highly flammable materials. Mr Harooni, whose warehouse was destroyed and whose company had occupied it, claimed against Rustins under Rylands v Fletcher. The claim failed because the judge decided that Rustins’ warehouse was not the source of the fire and that the claimants had failed to prove that Mr Harooni’s warehouse had been destroyed by fire emanating from Rustins.

The judge added, however, his views that Rustins’ storage of the substantial quantities of flammable materials was a “non-natural” use and that, if Mr Harooni’s warehouse had only been destroyed because of the conflagration of that material and the consequential escape of fire from the conflagration on to Mr Harooni’s premises, there would have been liability under Rylands v Fletcher against Rustins.

Harooni & Anor v Rustins Ltd [2011] EWHC 1632