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Vicarious Liability Assn Of Victims Of Uphaar Tragedy V/S Union Of India

Liability or responsibility is the bond of necessity that exists between the wrongdoer and the remedy of the wrong. It implies the state of a person who has violated the right or acted contrary to duty. So, the liability of a person consists in those things which we must do or suffer. It is the ultimatum of the law and has its source in the supreme will of the State.[1] A person has choice in fulfilling his duty and his liability arises independently of his choice. It cannot be evaded at all. Liability arises from a wrong or a breach of a duty. Liability can be many kinds. Those are civil and criminal liability, remedial and penal liability, strict and vicarious liability etc.

Vicarious liability

Vicarious Liability is, as the expression signifies, a liability incurred by A to C for B’s conduct or acts. When the law holds one person responsible for the misconduct of another, although he is himself free from personal blameworthiness or fault” we speak of vicarious liability. A vicar is one who performs the functions of another, he is a substitute.[2] Principle of vicarious liability is expressed by the maxims respondent superior and qui facit per alium facit per se, but it is not justified by the maxims.[3]

The first means that “a principle must answer for the act of his subordinate and the second explains that he who employs another person to do something, does it himself. These two maxims taken together place the master in the same position as if he had committed the wrong himself and make him answerable for his servants wrongon account of his sound monetary position when compared with that of his servant. As to why a master should be held responsible for his servant acts the answer is that by doing so:
  1. he advanced his economic interests
  2. he is a more promising source for recompense,
  3. he can control the servant,
  4. he benefits from his servants acts,
  5. he sets the ball rollimg, and
  6. he has deepest pocket.
In the words of Fleming, this doctrine cannot parade as a deduction from legalistic premises. It should be frankly recognised as having its basis in a combination of policy consideration, social convenience and rough justice[4].

Origin of vicarious liability

The English doctrine of employer’s liability is of comparatively recent growth. It has its origin in the legal presumption which gradually becomes conclusive that “all acts done by servant in and about his masters business are done by his masters express or implied authority and are therefore in truth the acts of his master for which he may be justly held responsible.[5] Putting in nutshell the development of seven centuries it can be said that the idea of direct and cruel revenge was , in the course of time replaced by a masters complete liability for his servants acts; the idea of a masters complete liability was then narrowed down to instances of his express command in Kingston case.[6]

There are three occasions when a person is held responsible for wrongs committed by others:

  1. By ratification-As when a person authorizes another to do a particular act, or when he ratifies the same.
  2. By relationship- As when a person stands, towards the other, in a relationship that consequently renders him liable for wrong done by that other person.
  3. By abetment- As when a person abets the tortious act committed by the other.

Basis of vicarious liability

As to why a master should be held responsible for his servant’s acts the answer is that by doing so:

  1. He advances his economic interests,
  2. He is a more promising source for recompense,
  3. He sets the ball rolling,
  4. He can control the servant,
  5. He benefits from his servant’s acts, and
  6. He has the deepest pocket.
If the employee is sued it would provide him with an opportunity to refrain from wrongful conduct and the master will have an opportunity to discipline his servants guilty of wrongdoing, by demanding an indemnity or contribution from him.

Modern Trend

The modern trend is to make the master primarily responsible. This is hardly reflected in law book. Lord Pearce therefore rightly observed that the doctrine has not grown from any very clear logical or legal principle but from social convenience and rough justice. It is a truth tested by experience.

Kind of vicarious liability

Relationship creating liability dissolves itself into the following sub-heads:

  1. Master and servant
  2. Owner and independent contractor
  3. Principal and agent
  4. Company and its directors
  5. Firm and its partners
  6. Guardian and his ward

Case Study

Assn.Of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy vs Union of India (UOI) And Ors[7]

The Uphaar Cinema fire case is one of the glaring examples of the vicarious liability where Ansal brothers, the license of cinema hall, Delhi Vidyut Board, Municipal Corporation Delhi, the licensing authority were founded guilty in the incident. It was happened in the Uphaar Cinema located in the pause area of south Delhi. On 13thjune 1997 the boarder film was released in Uphaar theatre the fire took place in the evening show immediately after the interval of the film.

The audience in the hall saws smoke out of the side of the screen. The most of them thought it was some special effect which was a part of the film. By the time the realised that a fire had broken in the building the smoke had enough in the hall. Actually the fire took place in the ground floor of cinema building due to explosion in the transformers which was installed that very day.

It was alleged that repairs conducted in the earlier part of the day were unsatisfactory resulted in loose. Loose connection that caused sparking in the transformers this resulted in the ablaze of cinema hall and adjacent parking where lots of car were parked. Due to chimney effect, the smoke gushed into the stair well and eventually entered the cinema auditorium through a door and through the air conditioning duct. The entry balcony area and the stair leading to the balcony were so full of smoke that it had become impossible for many of the petitioner to though out of the building.

Due to smoke and carbon monoxide released by the burning oil and other combustible materials, the people in the auditorium stated suffocating. 59 people died due to asphyxiation and about 103 were sustained injuries in the resulting stampede. Immediately after the incidence of fire, the Lieutenant Governor order an enquiry into the matter appointed Naresh kumar[8] for the same.

This writ petition has been filled by the association of victims of Uphaar Tragedy, seeks to highlight, what shocking state of affairs existing in the cinema hall building and wholly inadequate safety arrangement therein. They claim that there is complete disregard of statutory obligations, prescribed under the law for prevention of fire hazards in public places.

The grievances of the petitioners is that each and every public authority, not only filled in the discharge of its statutory obligation, but in fact acted in a manner which was hostile and foreign to the discharge of their public duty. Licence and permits were issued in complete disregard of the mandatory condition of the inspection and ensuring that the minimum safety guards were provided on the ground. The petitioners therefore seek adequate compensation for the victims and punitive damages against the respondent for showing callous disregard to their statutory obligations.

After considering the objections of respondents and the other various issues such as maintainability of petition, causation, the extent of culpability, public entitled to claim damages and the amount due to them etc. the court held that the respondent namely, the licenses, the Delhi Vidyut Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and the licensing authority were responsible for having contributed to the fire/spreading of fire by their acts of omission and commission. Therefore they are all jointly and severely liable for payment of compensation to the victims of the unfortunate incident.

Beside the compensation the license i.e. respondent No. 11& 12 will also be liable to pay punitive damage to the extent of profit which they earned by selling the extra seats illegally sanctioned by the authorities. The trial courts convicted Ansal brother for various charges including causing death by negligent act and were given maximum punishment of two years rigorous imprisonment.

The court has awarded Rs. 25 crore civil compensation to the family of the victims which included Rs 15 lakh each to the relatives of the victims, less than 20 years at the time of tragedy and sum of 18 lakh each to those, above 20 years the compensation included Rs. 25 crore for development of a trauma centre near New Delhi’s Sufdarjung Hospital. Situated close to the cinema hall. The court directed the cinema owner to pay 55% of the compensation since they were the maximum beneficiaries of the profit earn from the cinema, the remaining 45% was to be borne equally by MCD, DVB and licensing authority, each contributing 15 percent of the amount.

The Supreme Court on 13 October 2011 reduced the amount of compensation to the family of deceased above 20 years cut from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 10 lakh each for those below 20 years from Rs 15 lakh to Rs. 7.5 lakh. The court also reduced the punitive damages from Rs 2.5 crore to Rs. 25 lakh. The final verdict come on 2015 Supreme Court modified its earlier order and allowed Ansal brothers to walk free after paying a fine of Rs 30 crore each within three months. The court reviewed the order on February 9, 2017 and sentenced Gopal Ansal to a year of prison for the case. The other accused Sunil Ansal had give relief due to his advanced aged related problem.

In 2020 three judges bench of Supreme Court dismissed curative petition filled by an association of victims, sparing the Ansal brothers further Jail.

Ordinarily, only that person is for a wrong which he has committed himself, however, there are certain cases were one person is made liable for the wrongs committed by another. Such cases are example of vicarious liability. Criminal liability is never vicarious except in very special circumstances. However, civil law recognises vicarious liability in two classes of cases. A master is responsible for the act of his servant done in the course of their employment.

Likewise, legal representative are liable for the acts of dead men whom they represent. In the uphaar cinema fire case the Ansal brothers, Delhi Vidyut board. Municipal corporation Delhi held vicarious liable for the negligence of their employee act in course of employment. Due to gross negligence of manager of cinema, gate keeper who held without unbolting the door of balcony, inspectors and fitter of Delhi Vidyut Board who unsatisfactorily repaired transformer resulted into the worst fire tragedy. From the above discussion it is clear that the acts of servants or agents are the acts his master or principal for which he can be justly held responsible.

  1. Dr. V.D. Mahajan , Jurisprudence and Legal Theory, ( Lucknow: Estern Book Company, 5th ed. 1987 ), at p. 416.
  2. Jowitt, Dictionary of English Law , (1977) at p. 1861.
  3. Salmond, The Law of Tort, (1977) at p. 356.
  4. B. M. Gandhi, Law of Torts, ( Lucknow: Estern Book Company, en.2011) at p
  5. 80
  6. Id
  7. Kingston v. Booth, (1682) Skinner 228; 90 ER 105.
  8. II (2003) ACC 114, 2003 ACJ 1631, 2003 IIIAD Delhi 321, 104 (2003) DLT 234, 2003 (68) DRJ 128, 2003 RLR 333.
  9. Dupty Commissinor (South), Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.
  • (Uoi) And Ors. on 24 April, 2003

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