Thomas Fletcher operated a coal mine in Lancashire. Nearby was the Ainsworth Mill, owned by John Rylands, the largest employer of labour in Victorian Britain. He employed a contractor to excavate a reservoir to service the mill. Under the site were old coal workings; the water in the reservoir escaped into them and flooded Fletcher's mine. Fletcher sued Rylands and his manager: at this time it was not established that they would have been answerable for any negligence by the contractor. The reason the contractor was not sued was perhaps that he was unable to satisfy any judgment; his identity is not known.
From The New Oxford Companion to Law in Oxford Reference.