In the context of tort law, strict liability refers to a legal principle that
holds an individual or organization accountable for their actions or products,
regardless of negligence or intention.1 This implies that a plaintiff may seek
compensation for damages or injuries in strict liability proceedings without
having to demonstrate the defendant's carelessness or fault. Strict liability is
frequently used in situations involving dangerous animals, unsafe activities, or
faulty items because the potential risks are so high that whoever is in the
position to manage them is held culpable for any damage they produce.
Essentials Of Strict Liability:
The Rylands v. Fletcher
landmark ruling, which provided the framework for the
application of this concept, is principally responsible for establishing the
concept of strict liability in tort law's association with India. The principle
of strict responsibility as it is recognized in India revolves around the ruling
made in this case and how Indian courts subsequently interpreted it.
- Dangerous Product:
Dangerous product is a key component of Indian strict liability. The plaintiff
must have been harmed as a direct result of the dangerous thing's escape. In
other words, there must be a definite connection proving that the defendant's
activities led directly to the plaintiff's harm.
For instance, if a big concrete slab or rusty wire falls from a building site
onto a neighboring property and damages a house, it establishes accountability
as there is direct connection between the construction company's operations and
the harm produced to the harm.
- Escape Of The Dangerous Thing:
The escape of a harmful object is the utmost crucial component of strict
Liability in India. The defendant must have brought something harmful on their
property or brought something dangerous on its land. The plaintiff or the
plaintiff's property may be harmed if this hazardous substance were to escape
from the defendant's property. This component is essential to proving the
Think about a factory owner, for instance, who keeps dangerous chemicals on
their property. The escape of the hazardous chemicals becomes a crucial element
in determining culpability if they leave the manufacturing property and
contaminate a nearby farm, harming the crops, cattle, or the soil he will be
liable under strict liability.
Whereas, in the case of Read v. Lyons & Co. where the appellant worked at the
factory of the defendant. She suffered injuries while working in the production
facility when a shell exploded, and as a result she sued her employer. According
to the court, even if the shell contained dangerous chemicals, there was no
"escape," hence the defendant was not held liable.
- Non-Natural Use Of Land:
The defendant in this case must have used their land in an unnatural and
abnormal way. In other words, the defendant's actions must go beyond what a
reasonable person would judge to be common or ordinary. This factor is essential
for separating situations in which strict responsibility is applicable from
those in which it is not.
An example of a non-natural use of land would be if a landowner built a dam on
their property and it collapsed, flooding downstream regions and inflicting
damage. However, it could not be considered a non-natural use if the landowner
is involved in an activity that is accepted for the area, like farming, and
there is an irrigation system malfunction that causes damage.
In Sochacki v. Sas, the court ruled that since using fire within the home is a
necessary element of daily living, it would not be viewed as a non-natural use
of the property.
The Supreme Court of India extended the principle in Rylands v. Fletcher to
dangerous companies in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987). The court
highlighted that businesses engaged in activities that are intrinsically harmful
are severely accountable for any harm done to the neighbourhood as a result of
their unnatural and possibly hazardous use of the property.
Exception Under Strict Liability:
- Contributory Negligence:
In strict liability situations, the legal principle of contributory negligence
may be important, especially when determining how much compensation a plaintiff
would receive. Whether the plaintiff's own carelessness or failure to use
reasonable care contributed to their injuries or losses must be determined. If
contributory negligence is shown, the damages awarded to the plaintiff may be
reduced or, in certain cases, recovery may be prohibited. If the harmful product
escaped because of the appellant, that might be a strong defense.
In the case of Eastern & South African Telegraph Co. Ltd. V. Cape town tramways Co.
Electric current flowing from the defendant's tramways disrupted the
plaintiff's underwater cable transmissions. Since such damage wouldn't occur to
someone going about their ordinary enterprise, it was ruled that the damage was
caused by the plaintiff's equipment's exceptionally high sensitivity. As a
result, the defendant was not held liable for the escape.
- Act Of God/ Vis Major:
A legal concept known as "Act of God" may be used as a defence in some
circumstances, including strict liability proceedings. It describes unusual and
unforeseen natural occurrences or calamities that are uncontrollable by humans
and for which no one is liable. When an Act of God defence is properly proven, a
defendant may be released from responsibility for any harm or losses brought on
by such occurrences. However, depending on the jurisdiction and the particular
facts of the case, this defense may not be available or applicable.
For instance, assume a situation where a chemical production facility is next to
a river. The company takes all essential procedures to avoid leaks and spills
while securely and legally storing dangerous chemicals. The river overflows, the
floodwaters overcome the plant's containment mechanisms, and a considerable
amount of dangerous chemicals are released into the neighbourhood as a result of
the unprecedented and record-breaking rainfall.
The chemical discharge causes economic losses, property damage, and health
problems for a number of surrounding households and companies. They file a
strict liability case against the chemical production facility, arguing that the
facility is solely responsible for the damage the released chemicals caused. In
this scenario company can put the defense of "Act of God".
- Consent Of The Plaintiff:
If the plaintiff has granted express or implied permission to the presence of a
source of damages and there was no negligence on the part of the defendant, the
defendant will not be held liable. Essentially, it is the defendant's "Volenti
non fit injuria" argument as adopted by the court.
Imagine that a landowner invites the neighborhood to fireworks show that will
take place on their property. During the show, there is a malfunction that leads
to an explosion that hurts spectators and damages nearby houses. The absence of
the Neighbours' agreement might be used as a defense to strict responsibility
claims if the landowner can show that they voluntarily and consciously agreed to
watch the fireworks display while realizing the hazards involved. The lack of
permission in this case suggests that the Neighbours were willing to take the
danger of the fireworks show.
In Peters v. Prince of Wales Theatre Ltd., Birmingham, the plaintiff agreed to
rent a shop from the defendant, who also owned a theatre and a rehearsal room
connected to the same property. The theatre was equipped with a water storage
system in case of an emergency. Too much frost caused the water container to
break, which allowed water to flow into the plaintiff's business and destroy his
In this case, the court found that the defendant was not liable since the
plaintiff had implicitly accepted the hazards of a water storage tank that was
adjacent to his business by taking the defendant's premises on rent.
- Act Of Stranger:
In the case of M.P Electricity Board v. Sahil Kumar When Jogendra Singh was
riding his bicycle at night, Hari Gaikwad employed a live electric wire that was
laying on the road and partially covered in rainwater that killed Jogendra
Singh. In this instance, the electric department was held responsible because
Jogendra Singh's life would have been saved if officials had exercised caution
when handling a risky commodity. The court dismissed Act of Stranger on the
grounds that the electrical department might have predicted it.
- The "act of a stranger" defense often focuses on the notion that the
defendant had no influence over and could not reasonably predict the third
- It is crucial for the defendant to show that they took adequate
measures, and that the stranger's action was an unforeseen intervening
incident that broke the chain of causality.
- The court will frequently consider the facts and circumstances to decide
whether the defendant should be held accountable for the damage caused by
the third party's actions. The applicability of the "act of a stranger"
defense can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the
- Statutory Authority:
An act that was carried out with governmental approval is a defense to a tort
action. The defense is also acceptable where the action is subject to the Strict
Liability rule. However, when there is carelessness, statutory power cannot be
invoked as an excuse.
Impact Of Strict Liablity
Environmental Protection:A significant instrument for environmental preservation is strict liability. Companies are encouraged to engage in pollution control and preventive measures to avoid liability since it holds polluters liable for any environmental harm resulting from their operations as pollution affects people living near the industrial area.
Strict liability in industries like nuclear energy, public infrastructure, and the transfer of hazardous commodities helps to guarantee that safety procedures are strictly implemented. As accidents can result in severe penalties and financial loss for operators of high-risk facilities, it encourages them to maintain the greatest levels of safety.
Doors For Justice:
Without regard to the defendant's intention or carelessness, strict liability assures that victims of injury are entitled to a legal remedy. This encourages justice and responsibility, especially in situations when it may be challenging to establish carelessness or culpability. When a victim needs compensation, it lets them quickly get it.
By compelling businesses to create and distribute goods that adhere to safety requirements, strict responsibility promotes product safety. This pushes businesses to conduct stringent quality control, testing, and risk assessment, ultimately resulting in a decrease in the quantity of hazardous or poor items in the market.
- Cost: Strict liability could raise business expenses, which might then be passed on to customers as increased pricing for goods and services. The general public's access to affordable goods and services may be impacted by this. To comply with high liability regulations, businesses frequently must make additional compliance investments, which may be expensive and time-consuming administratively. Small enterprises may be significantly impacted by this.
- Killing Innovations: Since there have been several instances in which courts have held industry accountable, businesses may be discouraged from creating new or hazardous goods, even if they potentially have huge social advantages. This may prevent progress and inhibit technological innovation.
- Limiting Economic Growth: The cost of conducting business might go up due to stricter liability, which might slow down economic growth and cut down on job prospects. Industries that are inherently riskier might encounter unique difficulties.
- Attract Lawsuits: As the burden of proof frequently moves to the defendant in strict liability cases, this can occasionally result in an increase in litigation. As a result, the legal system can become clogged with baseless claims.
Types Of Strict Liability
The three most popular types of strict liability torts are as follows:
- Product Liability:
Even if they took all reasonable measures and did not commit negligence,
strict product responsibility holds makers, distributors, and dealers of
products accountable for any injuries or losses brought on by a harmful or
faulty product. This kind of strict responsibility is frequently used in
situations involving faulty items, such as consumer goods, medicines, and
medical equipment. The plaintiff in a product liability case must establish
that the product is flawed.
- Ultrahazardous Activities:
There are some activities that are seen to be so hazardous by nature that
anybody engaged in them is strictly accountable for any injury that occurs.
An action that is uncommon and has a foreseeable and considerable risk of
harm, even with due caution, is said to as uncommonly hazardous. Blasting,
the use of explosives, and specific forms of building activity are included
- Animal Attack:
Wild animal owners may be held fully accountable for any damage their animal
causes. The plaintiff must typically prove to the court that the animal
injured them, that the animal belonged to the defendant, and that the
plaintiff did not provoke the animal. This includes species like lions,
tigers, and bears that are not generally domesticated.
These concept of Strict liability, which have been used in several circumstances
to Mould India's legal system, have their origins in the famous Rylands v.
While strict liability works to safeguard public safety, advance environmental
preservation, and give victims access to justice, it also has drawbacks that
could increase costs for businesses, hinder innovation, restrict economic
growth, and serve as a magnet for lawsuits. Strict liability has a good effect
since it helps to ensure product safety and promotes ethical behavior in high-
Products liability, ultra-hazardous activities, and animal attack cases are
three frequent examples of strict liability torts. The legal system in India is
based on the concepts of justice and responsibility, and each kind is essential
in guaranteeing accountability in circumstances when there is a significant risk
of damage to customers or to other people in society. Therefore, strict
liability is crucial to give victims access to justice when they need it most.