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Accident under section 80 under the Indian Penal Code falls under the chapter of general exceptions. This article was made with the objective of keeping in mind the students of law who are nowadays in dire need of material which simplify the law than complicating it.

Accident, a word which is used in everyday life to indicate a course of events over which a person had no control over and which could not be avoided despite due diligence and care. Section 80 talks about accident as a general exception and which can lead to avoidance of criminal punishment and liability if established fully before a court of law. Law does not intend to punish a man of the things over which he could possibly have no control over. Â Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea only works as a reminder that criminal law in order to punish seeks some kind of guilty mental element to punish a person. This implies that a person when does not intend and cannot even contemplate occurrence of a certain course of events, cannot be held responsible for the happening of that event.[1]

The Indian Penal Code provides some general defences under chapter four that exonerate criminal liability which based on the premise that though the person committed the offence, he cannot be held liable. This is because at the time of commission of offence, person was justified

of his/her acts, or there was absence of mens rea. However, it is not all acts that are to be punished. There are certain defences provided under the ambit of Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 from Sections 76 to 106. Some exceptions such as mistake of fact, accident and necessity are available when person was mistaken to existence of some facts and act done without criminal intention. However, as per Section 105 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the burden of proof regarding existence of a situation of general defences lies on the accused.[2]

Section 80.
Accident in doing a lawful act:
Nothing is an offence which is doing by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and will proper care and caution.

A is at work with a hatchet ; the head flies off and kills a man who is standing by. Here, if there was no want of proper caution on the part of A, his act is excusable and not an offence.

Indian Law on accident is contained in section 80 of I.P.C. Its ingredients are as follows:
  1. The act must be an accident or misfortune;
  2. The act must not be done with any criminal intention or knowledge;
  3. The accident must be the outcome of a lawful act done in lawful manner by lawful means;
  4. The act must have been done with proper care and caution.

Meaning of accident and misfortune:
Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code is based on the principle that no act is per se criminal unless the actor did it with criminal intent. To constitute a crime, intent and the act of the wrong-doer must both concur. As the object of criminal law is to punish only serious infractions of the rules of society, it follows that criminal law cannot happening by chance but such happening must be unintentional and unexpected. It means an undesigned happening out of the ordinary course which no man of ordinary prudence could anticipate or provide against.

Stephen observes:
"An effect is said to be accident when the act by which it is caused is not done with intention of causing it and when its occurrence as a consequence of such act is not so probable that a person of ordinary prudence ought under the circumstances in which it is done, to take reasonable precaution against it."

Both the words accident and misfortune imply injury to another. Accident involves injury to another, misfortune implies as much injury to the author as to another unconnected with the act. For example, where two men A and B went to jungle to shoot wild rats, and they took their positions and laid bait for the game. After a while some rustle was heard and A believing it to be wild rat, fired in that direction. The shot caused B's death. A will had gone to case the gun with which the accused had fired was an unlicensed gun and be protected under this section because death was caused by accident.

In this it was observed that the use of unlicensed gun can make that person liable for an offence under section 19 of the Arms Act, but it cannot deprive him of the benefit of section 80. But where two cars running in opposite directions collide with each other resulting in injuries to the drivers of both the vehicles, it will be a case of misfortune. However, in practice no distinction is maintained between misfortune and accident. An injury is said to be caused accidentally when it is neither wilfully nor negligently caused. In Stephen's offence whit Digest of Criminal Law the following illustrations are given that elucidate the tention or nature of acts that may be regarded as accident.
  1. A, a school master corrects a scholar in a manner not intended or likely to injure him using due care. The scholar dies. Death is accidental.
  2. A turns B a trespasser, out of his house, using no more force than is necessary for that purpose. B resists but without striking A. They fall in struggle and B is killed. Death is accidental.
  3. A workman throws snow from a roof giving proper warning. A passenger is killed. Such a death is accidental.
  4. A takes up a gun, not knowing whether it is loaded or not points it in sport at B and pulls the trigger. B is shot dead. Such a death is not accidental. If 'A' had reason to believe that the gun was not loaded, the death would have been accidental, although he had not used every possible precaution to ascertain whether gun was loaded or not.[3]

Without any criminal intention or knowledge
Criminal intention or knowledge as reflected in the second constituent of crime under criminal law i.e Mens rea is one of the vital part which is necessary to make an individual liable for his acts. Intention is when the accused brings about the very result which it was his purpose to bring about, he is said to have acted intentionally. In criminal jurisprudence it is presumed that a man intends the natural consequences of his act. Knowledge on the other hand means an acquaintance with the fact or the truth pertaining to a certain event, it involves awareness of a fact, belief or mental impression and many offences under the IPC make knowingly doing of an act as punishable. Accidents and misfortunes by their very nature negate the presence of a criminal intention or knowledge and on this ground the accused may be excused from criminal liability.

In State of M.P. v. Rangaswamy AIR 1952 Nag. 268, accused though that he'd seen a hyena 152 feet away and shot at its direction. But later on it was found out that it was a person, he pleaded that it was raining and had a bonafide impression that it was a hyena and he in order to protect the people around him fired the shot. Court held that he will be entitled to the benefit under section 80 as besides the other facts, there was no expectation of any other person being present in the area where the shot was fired which resulted in the death of a human being.

Lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means
It is important that the act which was being done was lawful, in a lawful manner and by lawful means. As in Tunda v. Rex (skip to relevant cases part for brief story) , besides the defence of section 87(consent), section 80's benefit was also given due to the fact that there was no foul play by the deceased and both friends impliedly agreed to accidental injuries while going for a wrestling bout with each other. A woman who in order to discipline her child, hits him with an iron rod but the rod hits another child and causes injury will not be entitled to the defence of accident as the act itself lacks lawfulness and cannot be said to be in a lawful manner and by lawful means.

With proper care and caution Act done without any regard to proper care and caution also come within the purview of mens rea as they come under the concept of negative mens rea. Offences such as criminal negligence have this negative mens rea imbibed in them. In these cases a person does an act with total disregard to the consequences which may ensue from such carelessness.

Shankar Narayan Bhadolkar v. State of Maharashtra AIR 2004 SC 1966, this case elucidates the principle that when an act is done deliberately and without proper care and caution, it will not be given the benefit of accident. A host who unlocks his pistol, loads it with cartridges and ends up shooting one of the invitees to a dinner from a close range is certainly an act where proper care and caution was thrown out of the window.

This instance also highlights the problem of "celebratory firing" in marriages, in these cases too, a person will not be given the benefit of accident as firing bullets while attendees are present is certainly not an act done with proper care and caution as there is always the risk of bullet hitting one of the attendees.

Relevant Cases:
Tunda v. Rex 1950 Cr. Lj. 402 (All. HC)
The accused and the deceased were friends who were wrestling fans and were engaged in a wrestling bout. While wrestling, the deceased's head accidentally came in contact with a concrete platform resulting in injuries to the skull and eventual death. The accused was tried under section 304 but later on convicted under section 304A. He preferred an appeal to the Allahabad High Court, which held that when the accused and deceased agree to wrestle with each other, there was an implied consent on each part to suffer any accidental injuries. The injury was accidental and there was no foul play on part of the accused and hence is to be given the benefit under section 80 and section 87.

Bhupendra Sinha Chaudasama v. State of Gujarat 1998 Cri.LJ 57
Where the accused shoots his own colleague at a close range without knowing the identity of the target, this act reflects utter lack of care and caution and hence, the benefit under section 80 will not be available to him.[4]

Act done with proper care and caution:

In Bhupendreasinh A Chaudsama v State of Gujarat., the appellant Bhupendrasinh an armed constable of special reserved police shot at his immediate superior head constable who died on the spot. The victim and the appellant were posted in the same platoon at khampla dam site which was in danger, some skirmishes developed and the deceased had taken the appellant to task on the ground of dereliction in discharge of work allotted to him. The appellant did not tightly take the diatribe hurled against him by the deceased and he was groping for some opportunity to retaliate. On the evening of 2-7-1983 the appellant noted the victim walking near the tower of the dam.

He aimed his rifle at the deceased and pumped four bullets into his vital part. The appellant did own the act of firing the rifle but pleaded that he was doing patrolling duty with the service rifle and at about 7.45 p.m. when it was absolutely dark he came near the bridge for proceeding towards the valve tower. He saw a flame near the tower and saw somebody moving. He suspected that some miscreants was about to commit mischief with the fire. He could not identify the moving person due to want of life and shouted at him to stop. Since there was no reply he proceeded further and repeated the shout and still there was no reply. He had to open fire to discharge his liability.

His version is that he first fired in open ir and then fired two more rounds and heard the sound of something falling down. Thereafter he reported the incident in the office. The appellant was charged and tried for murder. He was acquitted b the trial judge as he entertained doubt about his complicity. The supreme court refused to allow the benefit of section 80, I.P.C. because the act has not been done with proper care and caution.

In Sita ram v State of Rajasthan, the accused was digging the earth with a spade. The deceased came to collect the mud. The spade hit the deceased on the head and he succumbed to the injuries. The accused was aware that the other workers would come and pick up the mud. The accused did not take proper care and caution and acted negligently. He was convicted under section 304 I.P.C
  • Burden of proof:
    In order that the accused may successfully claim a defense under this section proof of any criminal intention or knowledge behind the doing of act is necessary. Where the accused pleads exception under this section that the death was caused by accident, the court shall presume absence of circumstances bringing the case within that expectation in view of section 105 of the evidence act and the burden will lie upon the accused to prove that his case falls within the exception. The burden of proving negation of mens rea which lies on the accused is discharged if he satisfy to obtain a verdict in his favor. He need not to go to the excluding of reasonable doubt as the prosecution must do to secure a conviction, mere preponderance of probability is enough.
  • Wrestling:
    In Tunda v state, the accused and deceased were two friends who were fond of wrestling. The accused invited the deceased for wrestling bout. In the bout the deceased was thrown out where his head came in contact with the hard edge of chabutra which resulted in fracture of the skull and death. It was held that when the two agreed to bout with each other, there was an implied consent on the part of each other to suffer accidental injuries. In this case because the injury was not intentionally caused but occurred accidentally and further there being no proof of foul play on the part of the accused, his act did not amount to an offence. He was entitle to protection of this section.

The criminal law outlines different punishments for various crimes. But a person may not always be punished for a crime that he/she has committed. The Indian penal code 1860 recognizes defenses under section 76 to section 106. The law offers certain defenses that exculpate criminal liability. These defenses are based on the premises that though the person committed the offense, he cannot be held liable. This is because at the time of the commission of the offence, either the prevailing circumstance were such that the act of person was justified or his condition was such that he could not form the requisite mens rea for the crime. The defenses are generally classified under two heads: justifiable and excusable. Accident comes under excusable general exception, where if person has done lawful act in lawful manner without any criminal intention then he/she can take the plea of this section.

  1. (Accident under The indian penal code,1860, 2018)
  2. General Criminal Defences, 2020
  3. Misra, 2021
  4. Accident under The indian penal code,1860, 2018
  5. Accident And Criminal Laibility, 2020
Written By: Chaurasia Mamta- 2nd Year LL.B (3Years) Thakur Ramnarayan College of Law 

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