Strict liability is a vital principle in torts law, which holds individuals or
entities liable for the harm caused by their actions or products, regardless of
their fault or negligence. This research paper offers a comprehensive analysis
of the concept of strict liability by focusing on its introduction, essential
elements, and noteworthy exceptions.
The paper commences with an introduction to strict liability, providing
historical context and tracing its evolution in legal systems. By exploring
landmark cases and legal precedents, the paper establishes a foundation for
understanding the origins and development of strict liability.
Next, the research paper delves into the essential elements of strict liability.
It identifies and elaborates on the core requirements that must be satisfied for
the doctrine to apply. This includes examining the significance of causation,
foreseeability, and the scope of liability. By analyzing key court decisions and
legal doctrines, the paper elucidates the criteria that courts use to determine
strict liability and its key differentiators from other liability standards.
Despite the broad application of strict liability, several exceptions have been
recognized by courts and legislatures. This research paper thoroughly explores
these exceptions, elucidating circumstances where strict liability might not
apply. The study examines the "commonly known dangers" doctrine, the "abnormally
dangerous activities" exception, and other significant limitations on strict
liability. By evaluating real-world cases and scholarly opinions, the paper
sheds light on the nuances of these exceptions and their implications in various
In conclusion, this research paper provides a comprehensive overview of strict
liability in torts law, focusing on its introduction, essential elements, and
exceptions. Through a historical perspective, it highlights the rationale behind
adopting strict liability and its evolution over time. By exploring the key
requirements for strict liability and dissecting the exceptions, this study
offers valuable insights into the practical application and limitations of
strict liability in modern legal systems. Understanding the intricacies of
strict liability is crucial for policymakers, legal practitioners, and scholars
seeking to navigate the complexities of tort law and foster a just and equitable
Introduction & Meaning
A crucial subject in the context of tort law is the idea of strict liability.
The idea of strict liability is set up in such a way that even if it is not the
person's fault and even if they have taken all reasonable precautions, they
would still be accountable for the damages to be paid to the affected party.
A person is typically held accountable for his or her bad deeds. However, in
rare instances of vicarious responsibility, a person may become liable for
something that another person did. There are two types of liability: strict
liability and absolute liability.
Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds individuals or entities
responsible for the harm they cause, irrespective of their fault or negligence.
To fully grasp the significance and implications of strict liability in
contemporary legal systems, it is essential to explore its historical context
and trace its evolution over time.
Strict liability is different from intent crimes, as well as from intentional or
negligent torts. While prosecutors or plaintiffs still must prove that
defendants committed a crime or a tort, it can be easier to prove a strict
liability claim because there's no need to show what the defendant was thinking
or how the defendant's behaviour compares to a reasonably prudent person. All
that is necessary is to prove the crime or tort occurred.
The concept of strict liability dates back to ancient legal traditions, where
certain activities or actions were deemed inherently dangerous and, as a result,
the individuals engaging in them were held strictly liable for any resulting
harm. These early notions of strict liability primarily centered around
activities like keeping dangerous animals, using hazardous substances and
conducting blasting or excavation works. Such practices were seen as inherently
risky, and thus, those involved were held strictly liable for any harm they
caused, regardless of any lack of intention or negligence.
Throughout history, strict liability found its way into various legal systems
around the world, albeit in different forms and under varying circumstances. In
medieval England, for instance, the doctrine of "scienter" emerged, holding
animal owners liable for their animals' harmful actions if they had prior
knowledge of their dangerous propensities. This approach is akin to modern
strict liability principles regarding the liability of dangerous animals or
The Industrial Revolution further shaped the evolution of strict liability. As
society witnessed rapid technological advancements and the rise of industrial
activities, the risks and consequences of accidents increased significantly. In
response to these challenges, strict liability principles were extended to
encompass areas such as product liability and employer-employee relationships.
Manufacturers and employers were held strictly liable for the defects in their
products or the injuries sustained by their employees while on the job.
In the United States, the 19th-century landmark case of Rylands v. Fletcher
played a pivotal role in defining strict liability principles. The case involved
the flooding of a coal mine due to a water reservoir's construction, resulting
in damage to neighboring properties. The House of Lords ruled that the defendant
was strictly liable for the damage caused by the escape of a non-natural
substance from their land, laying the foundation for the "rule in Rylands v.
Fletcher." This rule established strict liability for certain types of dangerous
activities or substances that escaped and caused harm to others.
Over time, strict liability continued to evolve and expand its reach to address
new challenges posed by advancements in technology and industry. The emergence
of consumer society in the 20th century further fueled the need for strict
liability principles to protect consumers from defective and unsafe products.
Today, strict liability is a widely recognized doctrine in various legal
systems, applied in diverse contexts, ranging from product liability, hazardous
activities, and environmental harm, to even some aspects of criminal law.
Despite its wide application, debates continue regarding its justifications,
scope, and exceptions. Striking a balance between holding parties accountable
and promoting innovation remains an ongoing challenge for legal systems
In conclusion, the historical context and evolution of strict liability provide
valuable insights into the development of this essential legal doctrine. From
ancient traditions to modern industrial societies, strict liability has adapted
and expanded to address the changing needs and challenges of different eras.
Understanding this evolution is crucial for appreciating the role and relevance
of strict liability in contemporary legal systems, guiding policymakers, legal
practitioners, and scholars in navigating the complexities of tort law, and
ensuring a fair and effective framework for accountability and justice.
Understanding Strict Liability In Reference To Rylands V. Fletcher
Let us understand what is a strict liability with the help of a leading case:
Rylands v. Fletcher
The defendant got a reservoir constructed through an independent contractor.
There were old unused shafts under the reservoir site, which the contractors
failed to observe and so did not block. When the water was filled in the
reservoir, it burst through the shafts and flooded the plaintiff's coal mines on
adjoining land. The defendant did not know about the shaft and had not been
negligent, but he was held liable.
This is called the 'No fault' liability. In
the given case, the liability recognized was 'strict liability i.e. even if the
defendant was not negligent or did not cause any intentional harm, he could
still be liable under the rule.
Rule of strict liability - Aishwarya Sandeep
So, the summary of the above-mentioned case is, if a person brings anything
which is dangerous/hazardous on his land, which is likely to do mischief if it
escapes, he will be prima facie answerable to the damage caused by its escape
even though he had not been negligent in keeping it there.
Essentials of Strict Liability:
- Dangerous Thing:
One of the essentials for a victim to get damages under Strict Liability is that the escaped thing must be dangerous and is kept on the defendant's land. Taking Rylands v. Fletcher, the dangerous thing was the large water body which is the reservoir. A dangerous thing simply means one which is going to create some mischief after escaping. We can take examples of things like explosives, toxic gases, electricity, a large body of water, gas, electricity, vibrations, sewage, flag-pole, explosives, noxious fumes, rusty wires, etc.
The dangerous thing which is kept on the land which is likely to cause damage or mischief must 'escape' from the area. For example, if I grow a poisonous plant on my land and it grows to such an extent that it is crossing the border of my land and escapes and enters the plaintiff's land and the cattle of the plaintiff eats that plant then I would be liable for the damages caused to the plaintiff. But if the plaintiff's cattle enter my land and eat the poisonous plants and die, then I would not be held liable since there was no escape of his property.
- Non-natural use of land:
In order to hold the defendant accountable, there must be an unnatural use of the land. Taking the case Rylands v. Fletcher case, Collecting water for domestic purposes is natural use but Collecting water in a reservoir or for using it in the mill is non-natural use of land.
Exceptions Under Strict Liability
- Plaintiff's fault:
If a person is well worse with the danger, then he cannot complain afterward about that. Taking the case of Ponting v. Noakes, the plaintiff's horse reached over the defendant's land and ate poisonous berries, and dies, then the defendant would not be held liable as there was no escape from poisonous berries.
So, if a person enters into the defendant's land knowingly about the risks and the hazardous substance and gets injured, he would get nothing for damages.
- Act of God:
It can be defined as an event that happened due to natural reasons and cannot be prevented or we can say it is something that is beyond the control of the human agency. The defendant will never be held liable in the cases of acts of God even if reasonable care is taken. Some of the examples are tsunamis, earthquakes, extraordinary rainfall, etc.
- Consent of the plaintiff:
This exception comes under the principle of "Volenti non fit injuria". Take the example of A and B are neighbors and B has a horse on his land and B is aware that A has poisonous berries on his land, he kept the gate open even after knowing the risks and eventually the horse entered into defendant's land and ate the berries and died. Held that the plaintiff himself gave his consent not directly but indirectly.
- Act of the third party:
If there is a third party because of whom the accident happened, the defendant won't be held liable adding that the third party should not be the servant of the defendant nor should have any contract with the third party.
For instance, in the case of Box v Jubb, where the reservoir of the defendant overflowed because a third party emptied his drain through the defendant's reservoir, the Court held that the defendant wouldn't be liable.
- Statutory authority:
Any act done by the statutory authority is a strong defense to an action for torts. Provided that there should be no negligence on the part of the defendant, else they would be held liable.
In the case of Green v. Chelsea Water Works Co., the defendants had a
statutory duty to maintain a steady supply of water. In due process of the
operation and without any negligence on the company's part, a few pipes burst
and caused damage to the plaintiff's premises nearby. The Company was not held
liable for any damages as they had been ordered by statutory authority to do
Throughout this research paper, we have embarked on a comprehensive exploration
of strict liability in torts law, delving into its essential elements, and
exceptions. The doctrine of strict liability has a rich historical lineage,
stemming from ancient legal traditions that recognized the inherent risks of
certain activities and the need to hold individuals accountable for harm caused,
regardless of intent or negligence.
The evolution of strict liability from its origins in early societies to its
contemporary applications in modern legal systems showcases its adaptability to
changing social and technological landscapes. As industrialization and the
consumer society reshaped the world, strict liability expanded its reach to
address new challenges posed by industrial activities, hazardous substances, and
defective products. The landmark case of Rylands v. Fletcher played a seminal
role in shaping the doctrine's development, setting the precedent for strict
liability in cases involving non-natural substances escaping and causing harm.
The research also illuminated the essential elements that underpin strict
liability, including causation, foreseeability, and the scope of liability. By
analyzing key legal principles and court decisions, we have gained a deeper
understanding of the criteria used to determine strict liability and its
distinctions from other liability standards, particularly negligence-based
Moreover, the examination of exceptions to strict liability highlighted specific
circumstances where the doctrine might not apply. The "commonly known dangers"
doctrine and the "abnormally dangerous activities" exception emerged as
noteworthy limitations on strict liability. Through real-world cases and
scholarly perspectives, we explored the nuances of these exceptions and their
implications in diverse contexts.
The application of strict liability in contemporary legal systems has undeniable
advantages, promoting safety, efficiency, and consumer protection. However, it
is not without criticisms and challenges. Striking the right balance between
holding parties accountable and encouraging innovation remains a persistent
concern. Policymakers, legal practitioners, and scholars must carefully navigate
these complexities to ensure a just and equitable legal framework.
In conclusion, strict liability in torts law is a dynamic and crucial legal
doctrine that has evolved over centuries, adapting to meet the needs of changing
societies and technological advancements. Its introduction, essential elements,
and exceptions collectively contribute to a legal framework that fosters
accountability and protects individuals from harm caused by inherently dangerous
activities and defective products.
As legal systems continue to evolve, the
ongoing discourse surrounding strict liability will undoubtedly shape the future
of tort law, seeking to strike the delicate balance between protecting
individuals and promoting progress.
Ultimately, this research paper has aimed to contribute to the broader
understanding of strict liability, shedding light on its historical evolution
and its practical implications in contemporary legal systems. By recognizing its
strengths and limitations, we can work towards refining and enhancing this
essential legal doctrine to serve justice, accountability, and societal
well-being in the ever-changing landscape of tort law.
- Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/legal/personal-injury/strict-liability/ (last visited on 15th June, 2023)
- Rylands v. Fletcher, (1866) LR 1 Exch 265, (1868) LR 3 HL 330.
- Supra note 2.
- Brainscope, https://www.brainscape.com/flashcards/strict-and-absolute-liability-2620260/packs/4523677 (last visited on 20th June, 2023).
- Supra note 2.
- Ponting v. Noakes, (1849) 2 QB 28.
- Box v. Jubb LR 4 EX Div 76.
- Legal Desire, https://legaldesire.com/concept-of-strict-liability-and-absolute-liability/ (last visited on 30th June, 2023).
- Green v. Chelsea Waterworks Co., (1894) 70 L.T. 547.
- North East Law Journal, https://www.northeastlawjournal.com/post/origin-and-meaning-strict-liability-and-exceptions (last visited on 30th June, 2023).
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Mukul Khandelwal, BBA. LLB, 2nd year - University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES), Dehradun
Email: [email protected]
Authentication No: AG47421090151-6-0823