STRICT LIABILITY & ABSOLUTE LIABILITY

STRICT LIABILITY & ABSOLUTE LIABILITY

LAW EXPLAINED Tort
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Strict Liability[1]:-

The rule of strict liability was initially established in the 1869 case of Rylands v. Fletcher[2]. The defendant engaged independent contractors (engineers) to create a water reservoir on his land to power his mill, according to the case’s short facts. Engineers discovered abandoned mine shafts but neglected to adequately cap them. As a result, water inundated the reservoir and spilled into the plaintiff’s coal mine. Despite the fact that the defendant engaged independent contractors, the court found that the defendant created the reservoir at his own risk, and that because it was a non-natural use of land, he was accountable for the water’s escape.

This law indicates that if a person makes an unnatural use of the land and it causes mischief or injury to others, the individual will be held responsible for the harm.

The following are the most important aspects of this rule[3]:-

1. Dangerous thing: there must be anything dangerous that, if escaped, might create damage or harm to someone. Explosives, toxic substances, electricity line, gases, and so on.

2. Escape: That harmful object must be able to get out of the person’s premises.

For example, if a limb of a toxic tree escapes from A’s property and is eaten by B’s cattle, A will be held responsible for the injury caused. If B’s cattle enter A’s land and eat that limb of the tree, A will not be held responsible for the damage caused because the tree did not escape onto B’s territory.

3. Non-natural use of land: there must be a non-natural use of land; there must be a specific use of land, not a common one.

For Example: Building a water reservoir to generate electricity, for example, is an unnatural use of land. Water storage for household use is a natural land use.

There are a few exceptions to the strict liability rule[4]: –

1. Act of God: Any incident that a human being cannot avoid or anticipate is called an act of God. It’s an irresistible deed that can’t be predicted, and even if it can, it can’t be controlled by human action. Storms, lightning, unusual rain, and other natural occurrences are thus seen as works of God.

The man made pond on the defendant’s land overflowed owing to severe rains in the case of Nicolas v. Marsland 1876[5], and the water escaped into the plaintiff’s grounds, destroying the plaintiff’s walls and bridges. Because the torrential rain that inundated the pond was unforeseeable, it was deemed an act of God, and the defendant was not held liable.

2. Plaintiff’s permission: The Latin maxim ‘volenti non-fit injuria’ says that no harm is done to a willing individual. This means that if a person puts himself in a risky situation of his own volition or permission, he cannot sue for the resulting harm or injury.

For example, two people living on separate levels of the same building agreed to the construction of water and gas pipes, among other things. Nobody would be held responsible if the gas spilled and caused harm to any of them. If the act could have been predicted or avoided, or if it was the result of one individual’s carelessness, that person would be held responsible.

3. Plaintiff’s fault: If the plaintiff is harmed as a result of his conduct or fault, he cannot sue for damages.

In the case of Pointing v. Noakes 1849[6], the plaintiff’s horse escaped into the defendant’s land and ate the toxic tree on the defendant’s land. As a result, the horse died, and the defendant was not found responsible because the hazardous animal had not escaped from his property. If the toxic tree managed to escape from the defendant’s property, he would be held responsible.

4. Act of a third party: The defendant will not be found responsible if the injury is caused by the act of a third party who is unknown to the defendant. However, the defendant is responsible if he could have predicted the stranger’s behaviour and prevented the injury.

For example, in Rylands v. Fletcher[7], if a stranger destroyed the water reservoir and the water escaped from the defendant’s land to the plaintiff’s land as a result, the defendant would not be held responsible for the damages. However, if the defendant foresees the harm that the stranger’s act would create, he must take reasonable care and steps to avert the harm.

5. Statutory Authority: If someone is injured as a result of the government’s or state’s actions, no one may be held responsible.

What is the definition of an independent contractor[8]?

An independent contractor is hired to complete a specific task and is not obligated to follow his employer’s instructions on how the work should be completed. Unlike a servant, he is not controlled by his employer and works autonomously.

For instance, A took a taxi to his workplace. The cab driver is a self-employed individual. If A hires someone to drive his automobile, however, the driver is considered A’s servant.

In the case of an independent contractor, the employer is not accountable for the contractor’s actions unless the contractor requests or allows the contractor to do something that might result in damages or harm. However, in the case of the servant’s actions, the employer is responsible.

Absolute Liability[9]:-

The ‘M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[10] case, popularly known as the ‘Bhopal gas disaster,’ established the concept of absolute responsibility in 1987. The case’s basic facts are that there was a gas leak from a facility in Bhopal, which resulted in people dying and becoming ill. During an inquiry, it was discovered that all of the safety precautions were inoperable.

Absolute responsibility, in basic terms, is severe liability with no exclusions.

This regulation states that any organisation or business that is involved in a harmful object or engages in a hazardous activity and causes damage shall be held responsible. Under this law, it is not required for the hazardous object to flee the person’s territory. The owner of the land shall be held responsible for any harm caused to anybody on the premises as a result of such dangerous conduct.


[1] https://blog.ipleaders.in/concept-strict-liability-absolute-liability/#:~:text=A%20person%20is%20made%20liable%20only%20when%20he%20is%20at%20fault.&text=In%20the%20case%20of%20strict,liability%20rule%20no%20matter%20what.

[2]  1866 L.R. 1 Ex.256. 1868 L.R. 3 HL 330

[3] http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-5952-strict-and-absolute-liability.html

[4] https://www.toppr.com/guides/legal-aptitude/law-of-torts/the-rule-of-strict-liability/

[5] (1876) 2 ExD 1

[6] (1849) 2 QB 281

[7]  1866 L.R. 1 Ex.256. 1868 L.R. 3 HL 330

[8] https://cleartax.in/g/terms/independent-contractor#:~:text=An%20independent%20contractor%20is%20a,job%20is%20to%20be%20done.

[9] http://docs.manupatra.in/newsline/articles/Upload/2D83321D-590A-4646-83F6-9D8E84F5AA3C.pdf

[10]  1987 SCR (1) 819

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