DOCTRINE OF STRICT LIABILITY AND ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
Author: Shraileen Kaur
We are all well aware of the terms like tort, liability, trespass, nuisance, etc. Now the question arises when does the liability arise under tort?
Under torts, liability arises from the breach of a duty primarily fixed by law; this duty is towards persons generally and its breach is redressable by an action for unliquidated damages. There is something that one must keep in mind i.e., liabilities under tort are of various types such as vicarious liability, strict liability, absolute liability, etc.
Tort law aims to establish ‘fault-based liability’ wherein the party at fault for damage to another due to wrongful act or omission pays damage. However, tort law also includes a concept of no-fault liability, especially through strict liability and absolute liability. This means that even if one had not committed the wrongful act or omission themselves, they could be held liable.
DOCTRINE OF STRICT LIABILITY
Strict liability is an important concept when it comes to the law of torts. The basis of this principle lies in the inherent harm that some activities can inflict. For example, leaking of poisonous gases, as it happened in BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY, will fall under this rule. The concept of Strict liability states that any person who keeps hazardous substances or objects on the premises and cause damage. The underlying principle of compensation in torts generally depends on the extent of precautions a person takes. Hence, if he takes abundant precautions to prevent some harm, the law may exempt him from paying damages.
This principle, however, does not apply to strict liability. Under the strict liability rule, the law makes people pay compensation for damages even if they are not at fault. In other words, people have to pay compensation for damages even if they took all the necessary precautions.
Permissions allowing such activities often include this principle as a pre-condition.
According to the above-mentioned rule, the liability of escape of a thing from a person’s land will arise only when the thing or substance collected is a dangerous thing i.e., a thing which is likely to cause mischief or damage to other people in person or their property in its escape. In various tort cases filed worldwide, the ones involving the doctrine of strict liability have held “large body of water, gas, electricity, vibrations, yew trees, sewage, explosives, noxious fumes, rusty wires, etc. as dangerous things.
The thing that has caused damage or mischief must escape from the area under the occupation and control of the defendant.
NON- NATURAL USE OF LAND:
Water collected on land for domestic purposes does not amount to non-natural use of land but storing in huge quantities like that in a reservoir amounts to non-natural use of land. (Rylands vs. Fletcher). This distinction between natural and non-natural use of land can be made possible by its adjustment to existing social conditions. The growing of trees is held as a natural use of land but if the defendant is found to grow trees of poisonous nature in his land, then it is non-natural use of land. If the land has been used naturally yet a conflict has arisen between the defendant and the plaintiff, owing to natural use of land, the court will not hold the defendant liable.
EXCEPTIONS TO STRICT LIABILITY
The strict liability rule does not apply in a case involving the following exceptions:
ACT OF GOD: An act of God is a sudden, direct, and irresistible act of nature that nobody can reasonably prepare for. It can cause damage regardless of how many precautions one may take. For example, tsunami, tornadoes, earthquakes, extraordinary rainfall, etc. are acts of God. Any damage that occurs due to these acts does not attract strict liability.
- WRONGFUL ACT OF A THIRD PARTY:
Sometimes, the involvement of third parties may be the cause of damages. For example, renovation work in one flat may cause some nuisance to another flat. Here, the tenant affected by the nuisance cannot sue his landlord. He can only sue the person renovating the other flat
2. PLAINTIFF’S FAULT:
In several instances, the plaintiff may himself be at fault for the damage he suffers. In such cases, he cannot shift liability on some other person regardless of how much he suffers.
DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
The concept of absolute liability developed in India after the case of M.C. MEHTA vs UNION OF INDIA popularly known as the OLEUM GAS LEAK CASE. This is one of the historic cases in the Indian judiciary. The case of M.C Mehta is based on the principle of strict liability, but no exception was given, and the individual was made liable for his acts. It is based on this principle that the defendant won’t be allowed to claim any defense if he/she was at fault as it was laid down in Ryland vs Fletcher case. After the Bhopal gas leak case, many people lost their lives and are still suffering from some of the lethal diseases throughout the generation, and because of this, there was an urgent need to develop a rule under strict liability which had no exceptions available to the defendant to escape from the liability.
The rule laid down by the Honorable Supreme Court of India is a lot more extensive concerning the guidelines set out by the House of Lords on account of Ryland vs Fletcher. It was propounded by the Supreme Court that where an endeavor is occupied with a risky or intrinsically dangerous action and if any mischief results to anyone because of the mishap inactivity, the industry would be held subject to repay to every one of the individuals who are influenced by the mishap.
INCEPTION IN INDIA
The following changes were made in the existing doctrine of Ryland’s vs Fletcher which led to the following Doctrine of Absolute Liability that averted the defendants from taking up any defense against payment of compensation:
- If an industry or enterprise is doing or is getting involved in any unsafe venturous activity, then for any damage arising out of the conduction of that activity, the defendants who are the owner of the industry will have no access to any defense or exception and will be absolutely liable to pay compensation to the aggrieved parties.
- The enterprise will also be held liable for all possible damages or consequences resulting from that activity. This will ensure safety to all such industries from all possible damage or consequences resulting from that activity. This will make such industries provide safety equipment to their workers to prevent any mishap. Therefore, this will safeguard the interests of the workers and will give them a refined, sake working environment.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
- DANGEROUS THING
According to the guidelines set out, the risk of break of a thing from a person’s territory will emerge just when the thing which is gathered is something hazardous that is a thing that probably makes harm or injury to others or their property on its getaway. In different tort cases which have happened everywhere in the world, the regulation of exacting risk has held an enormous waterway, gas, power, vibrations, sewage, banner post, explosives, toxic vapor, corroded wires, etc. are sure things which go under the ambit of dangerous things.
Anything which has caused harm or misconduct ought to have gotten away or escaped from the area which was under the influence of the respondent to go under the ambit of absolute liability. Like it occurred in the case of READ VS LYONS AND CO. where the offended party was functioning as an employee in the respondent’s organization which was occupied with assembling shells. The mishap occurred while she was on her obligation that day inside the organization’s place. It happened when a piece which was being produced there exploded and because of which the employee endured harm. After this event and a suit was filed against the litigant’s organization however the court ultimately let go of the respondent and gave the decision that strict liability isn’t material here in this specific case. This was proclaimed by the court because the blast that occurred was inside the respondent’s premises and not outside. Also, the idea says that it ought to have gotten away from the hazardous thing like shell here from the limits of the litigant premise which didn’t occur and was absent here. In this way, the carelessness concerning the litigant couldn’t be proved in court.
The element of escape which is an essential element of strict liability may be ignored as this restricts the application of this doctrine of absolute liability as often incidents may arise where the escape of the dangerous thing like poisonous fumes may not take place outside the industry’s premises but may cause damage to the workers inside. In this case, the workers’ right to get compensation may not be ignored. Therefore, the extent of this principle is to be applied in a wider context ruling out the element of escape.
NON- NATURAL USE OF LAND
Water gathered on land for household purposes doesn’t add up to non-natural utilization of land however on the other hand if someone is putting away it in huge amounts like in a reservoir as it was the situation in Ryland vs Fletcher then it adds up to non-natural utilization of land. The distinction between normal and non-regular utilization of land by remembering the encompassing social conditions. As the development of trees and plants on the ground is considered as a normal utilization of land yet on the other hand if one beginning developing noxious trees, at that point, it will be considered as non-natural utilization of land. On the off chance that an issue emerges between the litigant and the offended party even though the
respondent is utilizing the land normally; the court won’t hold the respondent liable for his actions.
To make the individual liable under this principle, the offended party from the outset needs to show that the respondent had done the non-natural utilization of land and got away or escaped from the hazardous thing which he has on his property which brought about the injury further. In the case of Charing Cross Electric Supply Co. Vs Hydraulic Power Co., the litigant was allocated to supply water for modern works. However, he couldn’t keep their mains charged of a base weight that was required which resulted in the blasting of the pipeline at various places. This brought about making substantial harm to the offended party which was proved in the court. The litigants were held responsible regardless of this that they were not to blame. These are the couple of rules where this principle is applied.
SCOPE OF RULE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
In the majority of the cases, the rule of strict liability and absolute liability is viewed as exemptions in the law. Also, the individual is held at risk just when he or she is to blame. Be that as it may, in such cases, the individual could be held liable regardless of whether he isn’t to blame. After the disastrous mishap of the Oleum Gas Leak case the demonstration of The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 was presented with the principle motivation behind giving quick help to individuals who are survivors of the mishap in which treatment of risky substances is included. The plan behind this demonstration was that the demonstration will make a public risk protection reserve which will in the long run be utilized to compensate the people in question. Dangerous Substance under this demonstration is characterized as any substance which because of its properties is obligated to make any harm to the individuals, other living animals, plants, property, or the climate. The term dealing with is portrayed in section 2(c) of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 which is a clear and specific expression of the rule of absolute liability laid down in the case of M.C Mehta vs Union of India.
CASES RELATED TO ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
M.C. MEHTA VS UNION OF INDIA A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 1086
The Supreme Court was managing cases of spillage of oleum gas on the 4th and 6th December 1985 from one of the units of Shriram Foods and Fertilizers, Delhi. Because of this spillage, one advocate and a few others had died. An action was brought against the business through a writ request under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution via a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The appointed authorities for this case wouldn’t follow the strict liability principle set by the English Laws and thought of the precept of absolute liability. The court at that point coordinated the organization who had filed the petitions to document suits against the business in relevant courts inside a range of two months to get compensation to the wronged casualties.
BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION VS UNION OF INDIA (1991) 4 SCC 548
This doctrine was upheld in the infamous Bhopal gas tragedy which took place between the intervening night of 2nd and 3rd December 1984. Leakage of Methyl-iso-cyanide (MIC) poisonous gas from the Union Carbide Company in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh led to a major disaster and over 3000 people lost their lives. There was a heavy loss to property, flora, and fauna. The effect was so grave that even today when children are born, they have deformities. The Government of India enacted the Bhopal Gas Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985 and sued the company for damages on behalf of the victims. The court applying the principle of Absolute Liability held the company liable and ordered it to pay compensation to the victims.
Matters of this project has been referred from:
1. ‘Law of Torts including Consumer Protection Laws and Compensation under Motor Vehicles Act’ textbook by Dr. N. V. Paranjape (Publisher- Central Law Agency)
2. ‘Law of Torts including Consumer Protection Laws and Compensation under Motor Vehicles Act’ textbook by Dr. R. K. Bangia (publisher- Allahabad Law Agency)
3. ‘The Law of Torts’ textbook by Ratan Lal and Dhiraj lal (updated 26th edition, publisher- LexisNexis
4. Cases have been referred from SCC Online and Manupatra (Legal Databases)
- M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Oleum Gas Leak Case) AIR 1987 SC 1086 Para 32.
- Lakshmi Nath M Sridhar, RAMASWAMY IYER’S THE LAW OF TORTS, 10th ed., LexisNexis Butter wood Wadhaw, Nagpur
- CLERK AND LINDSELL ON TORTS, 12th ed. 2010, Sweet and Maxwell, UK
- Ratanlal and Dhiraj, THE LAW OF TORTS, 26th ed., LexisNexis Butter wood Wadhaw, Nagpur
- S.P. Singh, LAW OF TORT, 5th ed. 2010, Universal Law Publishers Co., New Delhi
- Vivienne Harper wood, MODERN TORT LAW, 17th ed., Routledge. Cavendish, USA
- W.V.H Rogers, WINFIELD AND JOLOWICZ TORTS,8th ed. 2010, Sweet and Maxwell, UK
- “Criminal Code Act 1995”. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
“Strict and Absolute Liability (Discussion Paper) 2006”. New South Wales Parliament.