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Summary of Roberts & Anor v Bettany & Anor



Background


The case involves a dispute between two neighbors in North Wales. The claimants' property, Sea Haze, is built on an embankment that forms part of a colliery spoil heap at the back of Grove House, owned by the defendants. In 1991, the defendants hired a gardener to clear part of the embankment, during which several bonfires were lit. Legal proceedings were initiated in August 1997, focusing on whether the subsidence (sinking of land) at Sea Haze could be legally attributed to the fires.


Issue


The central issue was whether the subsidence could be attributed in law to the fires lit by the defendants' gardener.


Decision


The initial judge ruled that the subsidence could not be legally attributed to the fires. The defendants relied on expert evidence stating that the work should have been done differently to prevent the subsidence. The judge concluded that the subsidence was caused by the failure of the infill material and introduced the concept of "novus actus interveniens" (a new intervening act) to absolve the defendants.


Reasoning


The appellate court found the initial judge's approach inadequate. It was decided that the judge had too narrow a view of the doctrine of "novus actus interveniens." The appeal was allowed, and the initial decision was reversed.


Disposition

The appeal was allowed, and the initial decision was reversed. No further directions were given for the future conduct of the action.


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