Sedleigh Denfield v O’Callaghan (1940): Liability for a nuisance caused by a third party.

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Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Nuisance – Private nuisance.

Main arguments in this case: This case illustrates that a person can be liable for a nuisance that was created by a third party if the person knew about it but continued to allow it.

The fact of the case: In the case of Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan (1940), the defendants were a group of monks who owned some land which had a ditch. The local authority, without the defendants’ consent, laid a pipe in the ditch to drain the water away. The defendants knew that the local authority had laid a pipe in the ditch without their consent however they instead kept using the pipe to drain water from the ditch. The pipe had a grate to keep out foliage etc., however, it was placed wrongly. A few years passed and the pipe got clogged up and as a consequence caused flooding to the claimant’s land. The claimant brought a case of nuisance.

The court held that the defendants were liable for the nuisance caused to the claimants. The defendants knew about the pipe but kept using it, and by doing so, they had adopted and continued the nuisance which was created by the local authority. A landowner who is aware of a danger but keeps allowing it is liable for the consequence of that danger despite the fact that he did not create the danger in the first place.

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