Cambridge Water Co. v Eastern Countries Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264

Applicability of remoteness of damage rules in nuisance and Rylands v Fletcher cases


The Defendants were engaged in leather tanning at Sawston. During their work, as a result of the process of degreasing pelts, small quantities of a solvent known as Perchloroethene (PCE) was spilt on the floor of the building in which the Defendants carried out their activities. These solvents eventually seeped through the building floor and into the soil, which eventually meant that they contaminated the Claimant’s borehole at Sawston Mill near Cambridge, some 1.3 miles away. The borehole was used to extract and supply water to local residents and consequently this meant that the water available for extraction as contaminated and to such a degree that it could not be safely used by the Claimants. The Claimants brought a claim against the Defendants on the grounds of nuisance, negligence and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.


The issue in the case was whether the rules for remoteness of damage and foreseeability of the type of damage caused apply to cases involving the rule in Rylands v Fletcher and nuisance in the same way they do for negligence cases.


It was held that the necessity to prove foreseeability of the type of damage suffered and to deal with remoteness of damage more generally applies equally to cases based on negligence, nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. It was held further that the damage in this case was too remote as it was not possible for the Defendants to reasonably foresee a spillage which would eventually lead to contamination of a water borehole so far away. The Defendants were therefore not liable for the damage.