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   Case summaries      Transco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council

Transco plc v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council [2004] 2 AC 1  House of Lords

The defendant council were responsible for the maintenance of the pipe work supplying water to a block of flats. A leak developed which was undetected for some time. The water collected at an embankment which housed the claimant’s high pressure gas main. The water caused the embankment to collapse and left the gas main exposed and unsupported. This was a serious and immediate risk and the claimant took action to avoid the potential danger. They then sought to recover the cost of the remedial works under the principle established in Rylands v Fletcher.


The defendant was not liable. The council’s use of land was not a non-natural use.

Lord Bingham:

“I think it clear that ordinary user is a preferable test to natural user, making it clear that the rule in Rylands v Fletcher is engaged only where the defendant's use is shown to be extraordinary and unusual. This is not a test to be inflexibly applied: a use may be extraordinary and unusual at one time or in one place but not so at another time or in another place.”

Lord Hoffman on personal injury:

“In some cases in the first half of the 20th century plaintiffs recovered damages under the rule for personal injury: Shiffman v St John of Jerusalem (Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital) [1936] 1 All ER 557; Hale v Jennings Bros [1938] 1 All ER 579 are examples. But dicta in Read v J Lyons & Co Ltd cast doubt upon whether the rule protected anything beyond interests in land. Lord Macmillan (at pp 170-171) was clear that it had no application to personal injury and Lord Simonds (at p 180) was doubtful. But I think that the point is now settled by two recent decisions of the House of Lords: Cambridge Water Co v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] AC 264, which decided that Rylands v Fletcher is a special form of nuisance and Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd [1997] AC 655, which decided that nuisance is a tort against land. It must, I think, follow that damages for personal injuries are not recoverable under the rule.”
Back to lecture outline on liability under Rylands v Fletcher in tort law