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Kailash Vishnoi BBA.LL.B (2nd Semester.) Roll No.982035
KIIT SCHOOL OF LAW, KIIT UNIERSITY, BHUBANESWAR 3/16/2013
In India.R. 1 Ex. In cases where the wrong done has been by someone who is a stranger and the defendant has no control over him Cases where the plaintiff has given his consent to accumulate the hazardous thing in the defendant‟s land for the purpose of common benefit Any act done under the authority of a statute 1 (1865-66) L. Fletcher. After water was filled in the reservoir. wherein the Supreme Court termed it as „Absolute Liability‟ This rule was also followed in the case of Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v Union of India(1996) Section 92A of the Motor Vehicles Act. Exceptions to the Rule of Strict Liability: If the escape of the hazardous good was due to plaintiff‟s own fault or negligence Vis Major or Act of God is a good defence in an action under the Rule of Strict Liability. Even though the defendant was not negligent and had no knowledge of the shafts. he was held liable.C. 1938 also recognises this concept of „liability without fault. which the contractors failed to locate. There must be a non-natural use of the land. This rule was laid down by the House of Lords in Rylands v Fletcher1 and hence it is also commonly termed as the rule in Rylands Vs. 265. There were some unused shafts under the site. it burst through those shafts and flooded adjoining coalmines belonging to the plaintiff. . In the case of Rylands v Fletcher. Mehta v Union of India (1987). the defendant appointed some independent contractors to construct a reservoir in order to provide water to his mill. this rule was formulated in the case of M.Concept of Absolute Liability Absolute Liability are based on the concept of „No fault liability. At times a person may be held responsible for some wrong though there was no negligence or intention on his part to do such wrong. The ingredients of the Rule of Strict Liability are: Some hazardous thing must be brought by the defendant on his land. There must be an escape of such thing from that land.
he cannot be held liable except possibly in those cases where he should have closed down the undertaking. The defendant was a mill owner. It may prohibit them altogether. In this aspect.e. even if the defendant was not negligent or rather. It was found as a fact that the defendant had not been negligent. the House of Lords laid down the rule recognizing „No fault‟or „Strict Liability‟. however. The law may deal with them in two ways. Such a consideration is not relevant in cases of strict liability where the defendant is held liable irrespective of whether he could have avoided the particular harm by taking precautions. The basis of liability is the foreseeable risk inherent in the very nature of the activities. although no one suspected this.. He can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiff‟s default.: “We think that the rule of law is that the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes. The facts of the case were as follows. is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape. In Rylands v Fletcher in 1868. the principle of strict liability resembles negligence which is also based on foreseeable harm.There are many activities which are so dangerous that they constitute constant danger to person and property to others. even if the defendant did not intentionally cause the harm he could still be held liable under the rule. and when the reservoir was filled the water from it burst through the old shafts and flooded the plaintiff‟s mines. for the shafts appeared to be filled with earth. . The basis of liability in the above case was the following rule propounded by Blackburn. Now it seems to have returned to what are regarded as its roots: it is a “sub species of nuisance”. But the difference lies in that the concept of negligence comprehends that the foreseeable harm could be avoided by taking reasonable precautions and so if the defendant did all that which could be done for avoiding the harm. The contractors did not block them up. But on balance it still merits some separate treatment. It may allow them to be carried on for the sake of social utility but only in accordance with statutory provisions laying down safety measures and providing for sanctions for noncompliance through the doctrine of strict liability. The undertakers of the activities have to compensate for the damage caused irrespective of any carelessness on their part. it is far from absolute since there are a number of wide ranging differences. although the contractors had been. and he employed some independent contractors who were apparently competent. and if he does not do so. a neighbour of the defendant. to construct a reservoir on his land to provide water for his mill. Liability under the rule is strict in the sense that it relieves the claimant of the burden of showing fault. ORIGIN OF THE STRICT LIABILITY RULE The Strict Liability rule had its origins in nuisance but for most of the 20th century was probably regarded by the majority of lawyers as having developed into a distinct principle. They communicated with the mines of the plaintiff. But the House of Lords held the defendant liable. must keep it in at his peril. In the course of work the contractors came upon some old shafts and passages on the defendant‟s land. i.
or stenches. but as nothing of this sort exists here. and it seems reasonable and just that the neighbor who has brought something on his own property which was not naturally there. It must be non-natural use of land. in the course of her employment there. it is unnecessary to inquire what excuse would be sufficient. was injured by the .. But for his act in bringing it there. the use of land should be “non-natural” as was the position in Rylands v Fletcher itself.” The justification for the above -stated rule was explained in the following words:“The general rule.or perhaps that the consequence was of vis major. or water.The claimant was employed by the Ministry of Supply as an inspector of munitions in the defendants‟ munitions factory and. the thing so collected was a large body of water. a thing which is likely to do mischief if it escapes. the liability for the escape of a thing from one‟s land provided the thing collected was a dangerous thing. as stated above. and it seems but just that he should at his peril keep it there so that no mischief may accrued. this we think is established to be the law whether the things so brought be beasts. in the Court of Exchequer Chamber. or filth. but which he knows to be mischievous if it gets on his neighbor‟s land should be obliged to make good the damage which ensures if he does not succeed in confining it to his own property. For the application of the rule therefore the following three essentials should be there: Some dangerous thing must have been brought by a person on his land.” To the above rule laid down by Blackburn. it is also essential that the thing causing the damage must escape to the area outside the occupation and control of the defendant. And upon authority. The person whose grass or corn is eaten down by the escaping cattle of his neighbour. The requirement of escape was firmly set in the law by the House of Lords‟ decision in Read v J. It was held that for the liability under the rule. ESCAPE For the rule in Rylands v Fletcher to apply. or answer for the natural and anticipated consequences. No mischief could have accrued. The water collected in the reservoir was of a huge quantity and was thus regarded to be of potential danger. is damnified without any fault of his own. The thing thus brought or kept by a person on his land must escape. another important qualification was made by the House of Lords when the case came before it. J. or whose cellar is invaded by the filth on his neighbour‟s privy. or the act of god. Lyons & Co Ltd. DANGEROUS THING According to this rule. or whose habitation is made unhealthy by the fumes and noisome vapours of his neighbours alkali works. or whose mine is flooded by the water from his neighbour‟s reservoir. In Rylands v Fletcher. seems on principle just. harmless to others so long as it is confined to his own property.
everyday use of the fire place in a room. It was admitted that high explosive shells were dangerous but the defendants were held not liable because “escape” of the thing should be from a place where the defendant had control and occupation of land to a place which is outside his occupation and control.C. causing serious injuries to the respondent. It was held that the defendant could not be held liable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. it is no defence to the application of this rule that the act causing damages had been done by an independent contractor. fell amidst the crowd and exploded. it has been held that trees on one‟s land are not non-natural use of land. Subramaniam. However. The persons using such an object are liable even for the negligence of their independent contractor. the defendants were held liable even though they had got the job done from the independent contractors. in T. EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE The following exceptions to the rule have beenrecognized by Rylands v Fletcher and some later cases:Default of the claimant Act of God Statutory Authority Consent of the claimant . It has been held in Sochaki v Sas. Generally an employer is not liable for the wrongful act done by an independent contractor. For the use to be non-natural it must be some special use bringing with it increased danger to others. that the fire in a house in a grate is an ordinary. proper. and must not by the ordinary use of land or such a use as is proper for the general benefit of community. the liability under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher cannot arise. ran at a tangent. The branch had broken off due to some latent defect. It was held that the rule in Rylands v Fletcher would be applicable because the explosive is an “extrahazardous” object. suddenly broke and fell on the plaintiff‟s vehicle passing along the highway. Similarly. an explosive made out of a coconut shell filled with explosive substance. In Rylands v Fletcher itself. natural. would be liable. which overhung on the highway. who had engaged an independent contractor to attend to the exhibition of fireworks. In Noble v Harrison. NON-NATURAL USE Water collected in the reservoir in such a huge quantity in Rylands v Fletcher was held to be non-natural use of land. instead of rising in the sky and exploding there. Keeping water for ordinary domestic purposes is „natural-use‟. There the branch of a non-poisonous tree growing on the defendant‟s land. If this fire spreads to the adjoining premises.explosion of a shell that was being manufactured.R. One of the questions for consideration before the Kerala High Court was whether the appellants. Balakrishnan Menon v T.
Judgment was given for the defendant. Whether it is so or not is a question of construction of the particular statute concerned. nibbled some poisonous tree there and died accordingly and it was held that the claimant could recover nothing. The Chelsea Waterworks Co were authorized by statute to lay mains and were under a statutory duty to maintain a continuous supply of water . In Rylands v Fletcher itself. the claimant‟s horse reached over the defendant‟s boundary. This was recognized by Blackburn J. it was an inevitable consequence that damage would be caused by occasional bursts and so by necessary implication the statute exempted them from liability where there was no negligence. STATUTORY AUTHORITY The rule in Rylands v Fletcher may be excluded by statute. and courts the danger by doing some act which renders the flooding probable he cannot complain So too in Ponting v Noakes. . that is they had permissive power but not a mandatory authority. in Rylands v Fletcher itself and was applied in Nichols v Marsland. An extraordinary rainfall. in Charing Cross Electricity Co v Hydraulic Power Co where the facts were similar. this was noticed as a defence. If a person knows that there is a danger of his mine being flooded by his neighbour‟s operations on adjacent land . “greater and more violent tha n any within the memory of the witnesses” broke down the artificial embankments and the rush of escaping water carried away four bridges in respect of which damage the claimant sued. DEFAULT OF THE CLAIMANT If the damage is caused solely by the act or default of the claimant himself. ACT OF GOD Where the escape is caused directly by natural causes without human intervention in “circumstances which no human foresight can provide and of which human prudence is not bound to recognize the possibility”. In this case the defendant for many years had been in possession of some artificial ornamental lakes formed up by damming up a natural stream. for the damage was due to the horse‟s own intrusion and alternatively there had been no escape of vegetation. for instance a main belonging to a water-works company. The distinction between the cases is that the Hydraulic Power were empowered by statute to supply water for industrial purposes. he has no remedy.Act of third party. and they were under no obligation to keep their mains charged with water at high pressure. which was authorized by Parliament to lay the main. the defence of Act of God applies. the jury had found that she was not negligent and the court held that she ought not to be liable for an extraordinary act of nature which she could not foresee or reasonably anticipate. On the other hand. burst without any negligence on the part of the company and the claimant‟s premises were flooded. or at all. In Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co. the company was held not liable. the defendants were held to be liable and had no exemption to the interpretation of their statute.
the defendant is not liable. in Richards v Lothian some strangers blocked the waste pipes of a wash basin. who is neither the defendant‟s servant nor the defendant has any control over him. Law has to grow in order to satisfy the needs of the fast changing society and keep abreast with the economic developments taking place in the country and never the less the Law of Tort is dynamic in nature. ACT OF THIRD PARTY If the harm has been caused due to the act of a stranger. the defendant was held not liable for that. We need not feel inhibited by this rule which was evolved in this context of a totally different kind of economy. as it prevailed or prevails in England. The overflowing water damaged the plaintiff‟s goods. has also changed and a variety of substances have evolved which one could not think of then.CONSENT OF THE CLAIMANT Where the claimant has expressly or impliedly consented to the presence of the source of danger and there has been no negligence on the part of the defendant. RULE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY A very basic question that arises is what is this Absolute Liability? How is it different from Strict Liability? There is a very simple answer to it.The exception merely illustrates the general defence. the defendant will not be liable under this rule. The main application of the principle of implied consent is occupied by different persons and the tenant of a lower suffers damage as a result of water escaping from an upper floor. Fletcher apply or is there any other principle on which the liability can be determined? Or will the application of the Principle of Strict liability in Ryland v. So therefore. about few hundred years back. The defendants were held not liable. what is the measure of liability of an enterprise which is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry. which was otherwise in the control of the defendants. it cannot afford any guidance in evolving any standard of liability consistent with the constitutional norms and the needs of the present day economy and social structure. if by reason of an accident occurring in such industry. due to the modernization of the . Fletcher evolved in the 19th Century at a time when all these developments of science and technology had not taken place. Fletcher lead us to a justified conclusion in matters of mass injury caused by such Industries? The rule in Rylands v. and opened the tap. We cannot allow our judicial thinking to be constricted by reference to the law. though it has to be said that the cases which have discussed this defence have tended to involve perfectly ordinary domestic fittings which would to modern eyes be a natural use of land. persons die or is injured? Does the rule in Rylands v. Thus in Box v Jubb the overflow from the defendant‟s reservoir was caused by the blocking of a drain by strangers. it is the application of Strict Liability but without the exceptions. The fact remains that the meaning of Hazardous. Similarly. But what was the need of this new doctrine when already we have many doctrines on liability and not just that we also have the mother law to all these principles that is Nuisance? The answer to this question is another question. volenti non fit injuria.
If an analysis of the declarations in the Policy Resolutions and the Act is undertaken. there is a public limited company by shares. The Court traced the evolution of the Doctrine of State Action to ascertain whether the defendants in this case fall under the definition of the term state. 1987 SCR (1) 819 . as provided under Article 12.C. Union of India. we find that the activity of producing chemicals and fertilizers is deemed by the State to be an industry of vital public interest. “We would therefore hold that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such 2 1987 AIR 1086. technology. One can check the merit of the argument.32 of the Indian Constitution by way of public interest litigation as the Court thought that these applications for compensation raised certain important issues and those issues should be addressed by a constitutional bench. arising from the leakage of Oleum gas on 4th and 6th December. Undoubtedly the right to life prevailed and the Supreme court thus evolved a new principle of Absolute Liability. it was alleged that one advocate practicing in the Tis Hazari Court had died and several others were affected by the same. The argument of the applicants on the basis of this premise was that in view of this declared industrial policy of the State. The court had in mind that it was within a period of one year that a second case of large scale leakage of noxious gas in India took place. industrial practices and in totality. Mehta and others v. in the city of Delhi. The Court also looked into the Industrial Policy of the Government and Industrial Policy Resolution 1956 where industries were classified into three categories having regard to the part which the State would play in each of them. In M. 1985 from one of the units of Shriram Foods and Fertilizers Industries. Mehta the issue of availability of Article 21 against a private corporation engaged in an activity which has potential to affect the life and health of the people was vehemently argued by counsel for the applicants and Shriram. law itself except the rule of doing justice. Mehta v. even private corporations manufacturing chemicals and fertilizers can be said to be engaged in activities which are so fundamental to the Society as to be necessarily considered government functions.2where the Supreme Court was dealing with claims. No doubt it is a matter of concern. Now the question arises which necessity should be given more importance. earning profits.C. whose public import necessitates made the activity to be ultimately carried out by the State itself. belonging to Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd. Fletcher and M. Here comes the conflict of interest of the shareholders or the people benefitting under it and the public that is affected by its gas but actually getting no benefit. as just a year back the Bhopal Gas Tragedy had taken place where more than 3000 persons had met tragic and untimely death and lacs of others were subjected to diseases of serious kind.world. in the interim period with State support and under State control.C. which is engaged in an industry vital to its shareholder‟s interest and on the other hand it is also a company with potential to affect the life and health of the people. The action was brought through a writ petition under Art. As the consequence of this leakage. by comparing the substance for which the word “Hazardous” can be used. that where on one hand. people. as it caused damage to an innocent third party both in Rylands v. science. Then how can we still follow an archaic rule? In case of M. private corporations may also be permitted to supplement the State effort. Union of India and Others.
in escape of toxic gas the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions which operate vis-à-vis the tortious principle of strict liability The rule was absolute and non-delegable duty towards the community to ensure that no harm results to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous activity which it has undertaken. for example. .hazardous or inherently dangerous activity resulting. It should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part resulting into no fault liability.
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