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Rickards v Lothian – 1913

Legal Case Summary

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.

Decision / Outcome

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.

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Answering problem questions in the University of London LLB programme requires a clear understanding of legal principles, good analytical skills and the ability to apply the law to a given set of facts. Here are some tips to help you answer problem questions effectively:

  1. Read the question carefully: Make sure you understand what the question is asking before you begin writing.
  2. Identify the legal issues: Identify the legal issues raised by the facts and the relevant laws that apply to those issues.
  3. Analyze the facts: Analyze the facts presented in the question, focusing on the details that are relevant to the legal issues.
  4. Apply the law: Apply the relevant laws to the facts, making sure to consider all relevant legal principles and cases.
  5. Structure your answer: Use a clear and well-structured approach, starting with an introduction that outlines the main legal issues, followed by a discussion of the relevant laws and a conclusion that summarizes your analysis and sets out your conclusion.
  6. Use relevant cases and statutes: Cite relevant cases and statutes to support your analysis and help illustrate the legal principles you are discussing.
  7. Be concise: Be concise and to the point, focusing on the key issues and avoiding unnecessary detail.
  8. Proofread: Proofread your answer carefully to make sure it is error-free and clear.
  9. Time management: Make sure you manage your time effectively, leaving enough time to review your answer and make any necessary corrections.

By following these tips, you should be able to answer problem questions in the University of London LLB programme effectively and with confidence. Good luck!

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