Strict Liability

Introduction

It is generally seen that a person is punished  for the harm he does intentionally or through his negligent behavior. But there are situations when a person is punished for the act which he does  even though there was no intention on his part or even if he was not negligent. In other words sometimes, the law recognises no fault liability. In this connection two rules are laid down: first in case of Rylands VS Fletcher and in MC Mehta VS Union of India. In this article we will discuss the former one.

Strict Liability

In Rylands V Fletcher, a liability  called strict liability was recognized by forming a rule. According to this rule, if a person brings on his land and keeps there any dangerous thing which is likely to do a mischief if it escapes, he will be prima facie answerable for the damage caused by its escape even though he had not been negligent in keeping it there. The liability arises not because there was any fault or negligence but because he kept some dangerous things on his land and the same has escaped from there and caused damage.Since, in such a case, The liability arises even without the negligence on part of defendant, it is known as the rule of strict liability.

In Rylonds V Fletcher, the defendant got a reservoir constructed by some independent contractors over his land.There were some old shafts under the site of reservoir which the contractors didn’t notice and failed to block them. Later when the reservoir was filled with water, it bursts through the shafts and flooded the plaintiff’s coal mines in the adjoining land. The defendants didn’t know about the shafts and had not been negligent, though the independent contractors had been. Even then, the defendant was held liable.

Thus, if I bring a ferocious animal at home and if it escapes and cause injury to someone even though I wasn’t negligent I would be liable. Similarly if I have a factory of explosive and if the explosives escapes my premises and injure someone, I would be held liable for the same despite of the intention and negligence.

Essentials of Strict Liability

For the application of the rule of strict liability, following essentials has to be satisified. These are:

  •  Some dangerous thing must have been brought by a person on the land
  • The thing brought by a person on his land must escape
  • There must be non natural use of land

1 Dangerous Thing

According to the rule of strict liability, liability will arise only when the thing which was brought on one’s land was a dangerous thing. A dangerous thing is a thing which will cause mischief if it escapes. Some exapmles of damgerous things are gas, electricity, poisonous trees, explosives, noxious fumes, etc.

 

In SK Shangrung Lamkang V State of Manipur, two persons died two persons died due to electrocution caused by falling of a high tension electric wire from a pole. The respondents plead that the fall of the electric wire was due to lightening storm. The plead was rejected and the rule of strict liability was applied as the thing which is brought by the defendant i.e electricity was a dangerous thing.

2  Escape

The second essential needed for applying the rule of strict liability is that the thing causing the damage must  escape to the area outside the occcupation and control of the defendant. Thus, if I brought a ferocious animal at my house, I would be held liable only when it went outside the house and injured someone. If the animal stays within my premises and injure someone in my premises, the rule of strict liability will not be applied.

In Ponting V Noakes, the defendant grew some poisonous trees in his premises. One day, the plaintiff’s horse intrudes over the boundary of the house and eat some leaves of a poisonous tree.  It was held that even the thing brought by the defendant was a dangerous thing, the rule of strict liability will not apply as in this case there is no escape. The plaintiff’s horse itself intrudes over the premises of the defendant and thus, the defendant was not liable.

3 Non natural use of t land

The third and the last essential of the rule of strict liability is that there should be non natural use of land. For the use to be non natural it must be some special use bringing with it increased danger to others, and must not merely by the ordinary use of land. For example- growing of trees on one’s premises is not a non natural use of land but growing of poisonous trees on one’s premises is non natural use of land.

In TC Balakrishnan Menon V TR Subramanian, it was held that the use of explosives in an open ground even on a day of festival is a non natural use of land because under the Indian Explosives Act, for making and storing explosive substances even on such places and at such occasions, license have o be taken from the prescribed authorities.

Conclusion

According to the rule of strict liability, if a person brings on his land and keeps there any dangerous thing which is likely to do a mischief if it escapes, he will be prima facie answerable for the damage caused by its escape even though he had not been negligent in keeping it there. For the rule of strict liability to be applicable three essentials need to be satisfied. These are”

  • Some dangerous thing must have been brought by a person on the land.
  • The thing brought by a person on his land must escape
  • There must be non natural use of land

Anubhav sharma

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