Updated Jun 29, 2023

Log in →

Appeal against timings to amend pleading in offshore oil spill claim dismissed

In Jalla v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd, the appellants appealed against a decision that they were out of time to amend their pleadings in their claim against the respondents for private nuisance arising from an offshore oil spill.

The spill had been caused by a ruptured pipeline in an oilfield off the coast of Nigeria. Oil had leaked for around six hours before the flow was stopped.

The appellants, who owned land on the Nigerian coast, claimed that some of the oil had washed up on the shore, that it had a devastating effect on their land, and that it had neither been removed or cleaned up.

Within the six-year limitation period provided for by the Limitation Act 1980, they issued a claim in private nuisance for undue interference with the use and enjoyment of their land. Over six years later, they sought to amend their pleadings to add a new claim.

The respondents objected, arguing that the limitation period had expired. The appellants argued that for as long as oil from the spill remained on their land and was not cleaned up, there was a continuing nuisance, meaning there was a continuing cause of action and limitation had not expired.

Although the respondents asserted that the spill had been contained before any oil reached the shore, they agreed that the limitation issue should be determined on the assumption that some oil had reached the shore, and that it had done so within weeks of the spill. It was also assumed that the tort of private nuisance could be committed where the nuisance came from the sea, and could be committed through a one-off event.

Both the judge at first instance and the Court of Appeal held that the amendment was time-barred because there was no continuing nuisance. The spill was a one-off event giving rise to a single cause of action which crystallised within weeks.

In this appeal the judge had to consider whether this was a continuing nuisance. In general a continuing nuisance was one where, outside the claimant's land, there was repeated activity by the defendant or an ongoing state of affairs for which the defendant was responsible, which caused continuing undue interference with the use and enjoyment of the claimant's land.

A continuing interference was one which went on day after day, or on some regular basis, resulting in the cause of action repeating on a continuing basis. There was no continuing nuisance in this case, and the appellants were incorrect in submitting that one had been created by reason of the spilled oil not having been removed from their land.

The leak was a one-off event which had stopped after six hours and, outside the appellants' land, there was no repeated activity by the respondents and no ongoing state of affairs for which they were responsible, that was causing continued undue interference.

A second reason the respondents put forward as to why there was no continuing cause of action was that they had no control over the oil once it had reached the shore. They argued that for there to be a continuing nuisance, a defendant had to have some control over, and an ability to prevent, the continuation of the nuisance.

However, control was not a necessary requirement, and the creator of a nuisance could be sued in private nuisance if they had control of the land when the nuisance was created, even if they no longer had control over the state of affairs causing the continuing nuisance thereafter.

"It is not an additional reason for regarding there as being no continuing nuisance in this case that the defendants have no control over the oil on the claimants' land".

The appeal was dismissed.

View all stories