Rickards v Lothian [1913] AC 263

Natural versus non-natural use of land, domestic water supply, malicious act of third party


The claimant rented premises on the second floor of a building which was used for commercial purposes and ran a business from the premises he was renting. The defendant was the owner of that building. He leased the building in parts to various business tenants. The case arose because someone had maliciously blocked all the sinks in the toilets on the fourth floor of the defendant’s building. The same person had then turned on all the taps, clearly with the intention of causing a flood and therefore causing damage. Eventually the flooding on the fourth floor travelled down to the second floor and damaged the property of the claimant. The claimant then started the case, basing himself on the rule in Rylands v Fletcher arguing that he had suffered damage as a result of the escape of the water from the defendant’s premises.


The issue in this case was whether a finding of non-natural use of land and Rylands v Fletcher liability could be found where an escape (which otherwise might constitute such liability) was caused by the malicious actions of a third party, rather than of the Defendants. Also at issue was whether water in this context could be seen as something not naturally on the land which had been brought to it by the Defendant.


The court held the Defendant to not be liable. First, water supplied to a building is a natural use of the land. The rule of Rylands v Fletcher requires a special use of the land. Second, Rylands v Fletcher liability will not be found where the damage was caused by a wrongful and malicious act of a third party.