Absolute Liability

The concept of absolute liability evolved in India after the case of M.C Mehta vs Union of India famously known as Oleum Gas Leak case. This is one of the historic cases in the Indian Judiciary. The case of M.C Mehta is based on the principle of strict liability but with no exception were given and the individual is made absolutely liable for his acts.  It is based under this principle that the defendant won’t be allowed to plead defence if he/she was at fault as it was laid down in Ryland vs Fletcher case. After the Bhopal gas leak case many people lost their lives and are suffering from some of the fatal diseases through the generation and because of this there was an urgent need to develop a rule under strict liability which had no exceptions available to the defendant to escape from the liability.

The rule laid down by the Honourable Supreme Court of India is much wider with respect to the rules laid down the House of Lords in the case of Ryland vs Fletcher. It was propounded by the Supreme Court that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and if any harm results to anybody on account of the accident in operation,  the enterprise would be held strictly and absolutely liable to compensate to all those who are affected by the accident.

Essential Elements of Absolute Liability

The essential elements of absolute liability are-

  • Dangerous Thing– As per the rules laid down, the liability of escape of a thing from an individual’s land will arise only when the thing which is collected is a dangerous thing that is a thing which likely causes damage or injury to other people in person or their property on its escape. In various torts cases which have happened all over the world, the doctrine of strict liability has held a large body of water, gas, electricity, vibrations, sewage, flag-pole, explosives, noxious fumes, rusty wires etc are certain things which come under the ambit of dangerous things.
  • Escape– Anything which has caused damage or mischief should have escaped from the area which was under the control of the defendant to come under the ambit of absolute liability. Like it happened in the case of Read vs Lyons and Co. where the plaintiff was working as an employee in the defendant’s company which was engaged in manufacturing shells. The accident happened while she was on her duty that day within the company’s premise. It happened when a piece which was being manufactured there exploded and due to which the plaintiff suffered harm. After this incident and a case was filed against the defendant’s company but the court eventually let go the defendant and gave the verdict that strict liability is not applicable here in this particular case. This was declared by the court because the explosion that took place was within the defendant’s premises and not outside. And the concept says that it should have escaped the dangerous thing like shell here from the boundaries of the defendant premise which didn’t happen and was missing over here. So, the negligence on the part of the defendant could not be proved in the court.
  • Non-natural use of land– Water collected on land for domestic purposes does not amount to non-natural use of land but if one is storing it in large quantities like in a reservoir as it was the case in Ryland vs Fletcher then it amounts to non-natural use of land. The difference between natural and non-natural use of land by keeping in mind the surrounding social conditions. As the growing of trees and plants on land is considered as a natural use of land but if one starts growing trees which are poisonous in nature then it will be considered as non-natural use of land. If an issue arises between the defendant and the plaintiff even though the defendant is using the land naturally, the court will not hold the defendant liable for his conduct.
  • Mischief- To make the person liable under this principle, the plaintiff at first needs to show that the defendant had done the non-natural use of land and escaped the dangerous thing which he has on his land which resulted in the injury further. In the case of Charing Cross Electric Supply Co. vs Hydraulic Power Co., the defendant was assigned to supply water for industrial works. But he was unable to keep their mains charged with a minimum pressure that was required which led to the bursting of the pipeline at different places. This resulted in causing heavy damage to the plaintiff which was proved in the court of law. The defendants were held liable in spite of this that they were not at fault. These are the few rules where this doctrine is applied.

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