Concepts Of Strict Liability
The theory of strict liability can be characterised as acts or omissions that
are judged accountable without the presence of mens rea (mental intent). It is a
liability standard that may be applied in either a criminal or civil situation.
Strict liability is a regulation that renders a person legally liable for the
damage and loss caused by his or her actions and omissions, regardless of
culpability, including criminal law blame.
The imposition of duty on a party
without a finding of fault is known as strict liability in tort law (such as
negligence or tortious intent). The claimant merely needs to show that the tort
happened and that the defendant was to blame. A person is guilty and convicted
in criminal law based on both actus reus (the banned conduct) and mens rea
(reasonableness) (the intention to commit the prohibited act).
offence is built on the foundation of mens rea and actus reus. In circumstances
of strict liability, however, the mens rea (intention) is immaterial in both
cases. Even if the individual has no intention, he is guilty based on the act
alone (actus reus). In this case, the criterion to show the offence does not
include intent. There is also no requirement to establish negligence.
Because defendants will be convicted even if they were really unaware of one or
more facts that made their conduct or omissions illegal, the responsibility is
considered to be stringent. As a result, the defendants may not be responsible
in any manner, i.e. there may not even be criminal negligence, the lowest degree
of mens rea. These laws are used in regulatory offences imposing social conduct
where a person's punishment is modest, or if society is concerned with the
avoidance of damage and desires to maximise the offence's deterrent value.
The strict liability theory was established in England in the 19th century in
Rylands vs. Fletcher
The defendant was the owner of a mill, and he built a reservoir to supply water
to the mill. This reservoir was built on top of historic coal mines, and the
mill owner had no reason to believe that these previous excavations led to a
working colliery. The water in the reservoir inundated the colliery by flowing
down the ancient shafts.
Blackburn J. held the mill owner to be liable, on the principle that:
who for his own purposes brings on his land and collects and keeps there
anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and
if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the
natural consequences of its escape.
The House of Lords upheld the idea of liability without fault on appeal, but
limited it to non-natural uses. This theory covers companies that deal with
water, power, oil, hazardous gases, colliery waste, and dangerous vegetation.
Essentials Of Strict Liability:
- For the application of the rule of strict liability, there are three main
essential ingredients that should to present.
- Some dangerous thing must be brought by a person on his land
- The dangerous thing brought by the person must escape the premise.
- There must be a non- natural use of the land.
Exceptions To The Rule
Some Dangerous Thing Must Be Brought By A Person On His LandIt implies that if a person utilises dangerous objects and causes harm to
another person, that person is obliged to compensate the other person for the
harm he has caused. Dangerous things, according to this theory, include vast
amounts of water, gas, electricity, explosives, and so on. The presence of a big
amount of water was likewise declared a harmful item in the Rylands Vs.
Fletcher case, and the defendant was ordered to compensate the plaintiff.
The Dangerous Thing Brought By The Person Must Escape The PremiseAnother important component of Strict Liability is escape, which specifies that
anything that causes injury to another person must be escaped from the person's
property and should not be within reach of the person. For instance, suppose A
has developed some poisonous plants that might cause great injury to anyone or
any animal that consumes them. If B's Sheep ate that plant because some of them
had fallen on B's land, then A is obligated to recompense B for his loss; but,
if B's Sheep entered A's property and ate that plant, then A is not liable for
Read Vs. Lyons & Co. decided that where there is no escape from the defendant's
property, the defendant is not responsible to pay the plaintiff for the damage
he has suffered.
There Must Be A Non-Natural Use Of LandIt means that if stored water is used for a natural purpose, such as domestic
purposes, a person cannot be held liable for any harm caused by it; however, if
it is used for a non-natural purpose, such as in the case of Rylands Vs.
Fletcher, the defendant used the land to build a reservoir to benefit its
mill, putting others in danger, and thus he was liable for the plaintiff's
There are certain exceptions to this rule of liability where the defendant will
be freed from all forms of liability.
Those exceptions are as follows:
Plaintiff Is The Wrongdoer If the claimant's act or default is the only source of the injury, he has no
recourse. Assume a person visits someone's property knowing there is a vicious
dog on the premises that can bite him. Also, if he enters and gets bitten by a
dog, he will be unable to seek compensation. This was mentioned as a defence in
Rylands v Fletcher. If a person is aware that his mine may be flooded as a
result of his neighbor's operations on adjacent ground, and he accepts the risk
by acting in a way that makes flooding more likely, he cannot complain.
Similarly, in Ponting v Noakes 5, the claimant's horse crossed the defendant's
boundary, nibbled a poisonous tree there, and died as a result, and it was held
that the claimant could recover nothing because the damage was caused by the
horse's own intrusion and alternatively because no vegetation had escaped. As we
can see, the object does not escape from the defendant's property, and the
plaintiff was at fault for not taking sufficient care of his horse dues, which
he is liable for.
Statutory Authority By legislation, the rule in Rylands v Fletcher might be overturned. Whether this
is true or not is a matter of interpreting the legislation in question. For
example, in Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co6, a main belonging to a water-works
company, which was authorised by Parliament to lay the main, broke without any
negligence on the company's part, flooding the claimant's properties; the
business was found not responsible. In Cross Electricity Co v Hydraulic Power
Co7, on the other hand, when the facts were identical, the defendants were found
to be responsible and had no defence against the interpretation of their
legislation. The difference between the two examples is that the Hydraulic Power
was authorised by legislation to supply water for industrial reasons, which
meant they had permissive authority but not mandatory authority, and they were
not required to maintain their mains charged with water at high pressure or at
all. The Chelsea Waterworks Co. was permitted by laws to lay mains and was
required by law to provide a continuous supply of water; as a result, damage was
an unavoidable consequence.
Act Of Third PartyAccording to this, if injury is produced by a stranger or third party, and there
is no negligence on the part of either the plaintiff or defendant, but the loss
occurs as a result of the stranger's act, the defendant is not accountable. The
term "stranger" or "third person" does not include the defendant's servants,
agents, or other employees.
Consent Of The Plaintiff This exception states that if a person is aware of the potential for damage
during a particular act and yet performs that conduct, he is responsible for his
own actions. He can't hold anyone else responsible for that behaviour unless
that person was irresponsible in some way and he was unaware of it. Volenti Non
Fit Injuria is another name for this.
Vis Major Or Act Of GodIt is another exemption that declares that if the loss is caused by an act of
God, such as a flood, earthquake, or other natural calamity, no one will be held
responsible because these events are beyond human control. The Act of God
defence applies when the escape is induced directly by natural forces without
human interference under "circumstances that no human foresight can give and of
which human wisdom is not obligated to perceive the likelihood." The most
crucial aspect of this defence is that the object escaped without the
defendant's knowledge, and that the breakout was so unusual that no one could
have predicted it.
Concept Of Absolute Liability
With the passage of time, the renowned rule of strict liability established by
Blackburn J. in Rylands v. Fletcher
8 has shown to be unsuccessful in combating
the unsafe use of one's property or an enterprise that produces chemicals or
wastes harmful to public health. The pre-requisites for establishing a
responsibility under the strict liability principle, such as the non-natural use
of land, the use of a dangerous substance, and the element of escape, presented
9 significant loopholes for businesses to avoid liability under the Rylands v.
Furthermore, the exclusions allowed under the regulation (and reiterated by the
Supreme Court of India in MC Mehta v. Union of India) provide commercial
businesses sufficient chance to avoid accountability.
In MC Mehta v. Union of
the Supreme Court of India established a more rigorous strict liability
test than the Rylands v. Fletcher
norm. In this case, the leaking of Oleum gas
from one of Shriram Industries' operations in Delhi caused significant damage.
The court held that, in light of the needs and demands of a modern society with
advanced scientific knowledge and technology, where it was necessary to carry
out inherently dangerous or hazardous industry for the sake of a development
programme, a new rule needed to be established to adequately address the
problems that arise in a highly industrialised economy.
This new rule had to be
based on the English law of strict liability , but it had to be even stricter,
such that no company engaged in an intrinsically risky or hazardous activity
could escape culpability, regardless of whether or not carelessness was
The court also pointed out that the duty owed by such an enterprise to the
society is absolute and non-delegable and that the enterprise cannot escape
liability by showing that it had taken all reasonable care and there was no
negligence on its part.
Rylands v. Fletcher established a rule requiring the defendant's non-natural use
of land and the escape from his land of the object that causes harm. However,
the decision in MC Mehta v. Union of India is not contingent on any of these
factors. The new rule must be used whenever the defendant is engaged in a
hazardous or intrinsically dangerous activity and injury is caused to anybody as
a consequence of an accident while doing such a hazardous or inherently
The rule in Rylands v. Fletcher
will not apply to situations of injury to people
on the premises since the rule requires the object that produces the harm to
leave the premises. The new regulation makes no distinction between those within
and outside the premises where the enterprise is carried on, because escape of
the object causing injury from the premises is not a requirement for the law's
Furthermore, the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher
, while strict in the sense that it
is not contingent on the defendant's negligence and thus similar to the new
rule, is not absolute because it is subject to many exceptions, whereas the new
rule in Mehta's case is not only strict but absolute and has no exceptions.
Another significant difference between the two is in the amount of damages
awarded. Ordinary or compensatory damages will be awarded if the rule in Rylands
applies; however, exemplary damages may be awarded where the rule in
MC Mehta's case applies, and the larger and more profitable the company, the
greater the amount of compensation due by it.
Dstinction Between Strict And Absolute Liability
The major differences between strict and absolute liability are as follows:
- In absolute liability, the destruction is mass destruction, but in
strict liability, the destruction is restricted to a certain level.
- In absolute liability, there is no defence available for the defendant,
whereas in strict liability, the defendant can claim defences such as act of
god, plaintiff is the wrongdoer, third party interventions etc
- In absolute liability, the compensation paid to the plaintiff is
determined on the basis of the the financial stability of the company
causing the action that gives rise to absolute liability. In strict
liability however, the compensation is determined by the nature and the
amount of damage caused.
- In absolute liability, it doesn't really matter whether the harmful
substance escapes. Even if any harm is caused inside the premise, the
defendant will be held liable. However in the case of strict liability,
escape of the harmful substance is an essential element.
With the reversal of the burden of evidence, the rule of strict liability may
have served well in previous ages, but with the modernization of society and
increased industrialisation, a change in principle was required. The strict
liability exceptions would become justifications for businesses to be reckless
in exercising reasonable care.
Absolute liability is equivalent to strict liability, except since it has no
exceptions, it prevents exploitation and cruelty to the suffering party. There
was an urgent and intrinsic need for such a theory since the law of strict
liability, which was developed over two centuries earlier, cannot be used as the
primary principle to account for reimbursement because it was formulated at a
time when technical progress was only in its early stages in contrast to today's
Both the strict and absolute liability principles deal with the circumstance
when something odd is introduced onto the defendant's territory, and if it
escapes and causes harm to the plaintiff, the defendant is held accountable. In
the case of M.C Mehta v. Union of India
, the Supreme Court of India established
a new strict liability rule. This new rule is more stringent than the one
established in Ryland v. Fletcher
This is referred to as the absolute liability
rule. The court determined that
the 19th-century rule of Ryland v. Fletcher
did not adequately address
the needs of modern industrial society with highly developed scientific
knowledge and technology where hazardous or inherently dangerous industries
existed, and that a new rule not yet recognised by law was required to
adequately address the problem arising in a highly industrialised economy.