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The Rule of No-Fault Liability

The concept of strict liability was introduced in the late nineteenth century. The principle originates from the idea of negligence which means having lack of care for any act. In simpler words, it can be explained as a situation where one person has a duty of care towards the other, supposedly a tenant and breach of such duty leads to certain harm to the other person who is the tenant. Where there is negligence on part of the defendant, he or she is liable to pay damages and compensate the aggrieved. In contrast with the concept of strict liability, the defendant or doer is held liable irrespective of presence of any negligence on his part. [1]

The concept of strict liability can be understood in a more transparent way by checking the application of following essentials in any situation simultaneously:

  1. Dangerous thing

    In literal terms, the term dangerous means anything which is likely to cause any sort of harm or damage. The first and foremost essential to constitute an act of strict liability is with the presence of a thing on the land that is dangerous. Such presence of a particular thing is exposed to high risks to people surrounded by it. Examples like electric item, explosives, fire related.
     
  2. Non-natural use of land

    The second essential to satisfy the concept laid down above is there must be some kind of uncommon use of land which can lead to harm or danger to people surrounded by it. There is a clear distinction between natural and non-natural use of land which depends on the social conditions where a group of individuals are living in. A natural use of land is when a justifiable amount of water is collected and kept for storage whereas a non-natural use of land is when an immense amount of water is stored like that needed for a reservoir.
     
  3. Escape

    It is also essential that the thing which is causing damage to the other has escaped from the area where it was perfectly under the control of its owner. The thing must break free from the confinement which in turn caused damage or unlikely harm to the other person. For example, two wild dogs escaping their house and running away to neighbours house and causing harm, owner having no knowledge of their escape.
     
  4. Foreseeable damage

    The damage that is likely to be caused shall be forecasted before its occurrence. Such forecast is very essential to hold an individual liable for harm.
The whole idea of strict liability evolved in the landmark case, Rylands v/s Fletcher, passed by Justice Blackburn. In this case, the defendants employed a group of engineers who were independent contractors for constructing a reservoir as the defendant intended to improve his water supply. During the construction, the contractors acted negligent and did not lock the mine shafts which they came across during construction. As a result, immense water flooded into the coal mines of plaintiff and there was a lot of damage caused to the mines of the plaintiff.

In furtherance of this suffering, the plaintiff sued the defendant for damages. While declaring the defendant liable for the harm caused, Justice Blackburn laid down the rule of strict liability stating that:
“Any individual who for his own personal fulfilment of a purpose, brings something and keeps it on his land, and this thing is of a nature that would likely cause damage if it escaped, he must keep such thing under his control and peril, failing to do so would make him answerable for all the consequences that lay beyond the escape.”

Therefore, the rule of strict liability is also called as the principle of No fault liability where irrespective of the defendant acting negligent or making any mistake, he or she is going to be liable for the damage.
However, there are certain situations where a person would not be held accountable for any kind of damage or harm caused to the other irrespective of the fact that the above-mentioned essentials are satisfied.

These exceptional situations are as follows:

  1. Act of God
    An act of god is an act which takes place with the divine control and mankind has no control over the happening and non-happening of such act. Whenever, such act takes place, the principle of no-fault liability is not applied.
     
  2. Act of a Third Party
    The rule of strict liability is not applicable in situations where the damage so caused is due to wrongful act and wrongful intention of a third party and the defendant has no control over it.
     
  3. Plaintiff’s own fault
    The defendant cannot be held liable for any harm or damage if such harm is created because of the wrongful intention of the plaintiff for doing an act to cause harm to the defendant’s property. Example stealing from defendant’s garden.
     
  4. Statutory Authority
    None of the individual can be held liable for any activity causing any harm or damage to any individual, if such act is performed for positively adhering to the provisions laid down in a statute.

End-Notes:
  1. Anjali Dhingra, STRICT LIABILITY MEANS NO FAULT LIABILITY WHEREAS TIME HAS PROVEN IT TO BE NO LIABLITY, Ipleaders
  2. ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, PS Jaswal

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