General Defences under Tort Law

Whenever a case is brought against the defendant for the commission of a tort and all the essential elements of that wrong are present, the defendant would be held liable for the same. Even in such cases, the defendant can avoid his liability by taking the plea of the defenses available under the law of torts. Some defences are particularly relating to some offences. In the case of defamation, the defences available are fair comment, privileges and justification, etc.Let’s see what are these defences available to a person under the law of tort and how can it be pleaded along with some of the important cases.

Meaning of General Defences
When a plaintiff brings an action against the defendant for a tort committed by him, he will be held liable for it, if there exists all the essential ingredients which are required for that wrong. But there are some defences available to him using which he can absolve himself from the liability arising out of the wrong committed. These are known as ‘General defences’ in the law of tort.

The defences available are given as follows:
Volenti non fit injuria or the defense of ‘Consent’
The wrongdoer is the plaintiff
Inevitable accident
Act of god
Private defense
Statutory authority
Volenti non fit injuria
In case, a plaintiff voluntarily suffers some harm, he has no remedy for that under the law of tort and he is not allowed to complain about the same. The reason behind this defence is that no one can enforce a right that he has voluntarily abandoned or waived. Consent to suffer harm can be express or implied.
Volenti non fit injuria
In case, a plaintiff voluntarily suffers some harm, he has no remedy for that under the law of tort and he is not allowed to complain about the same. The reason behind this defence is that no one can enforce a right that he has voluntarily abandoned or waived. Consent to suffer harm can be express or implied.
In Wooldrige v. Sumner, a plaintiff was taking some pictures standing at the boundary of the arena. The defendant’s horse galloped at the plaintiff due to which he got frightened and fell into the horse’s course and was seriously injured. The defendants were not liable in this case since they had taken due care and precautions.

Plaintiff the wrongdoer
If the basis of the action by the plaintiff is an unlawful contract then he will not succeed in his actions and he cannot recover damages. If a defendant asserts that the claimant himself is the wrongdoer and is not entitled to the damages, then it does not mean that the court will declare him free from the liability but he will not be liable under this head. In Pitts v. Hunt, there was a rider who was 18 years of age. He encouraged his friend who was 16 years old to drive fast under drunken conditions. But their motorcycle met with an accident, the driver died on the spot. The pillion rider suffered serious injuries and filed a suit for claiming compensation from the relatives of the deceased person. This plea was rejected as he himself was the wrongdoer in this case.

Inevitable accident
Accident means an unexpected injury and if the same accident could not have been stopped or avoided in spite of taking all due care and precautions on the part of the defendant, then we call it an inevitable accident. It serves as a good defence as the defendant could show that the injury could not be stopped even after taking all the precautions and there was no intent to harm the plaintiff.
In Brown v. Kendall, the dogs of the plaintiff and the defendant were fighting with each other. The defendant tried to separate them and while doing so, he accidentally hit the plaintiff in the eye causing him some serious injuries. The incident was purely an inevitable accident for which no claim could lie. So, the court held that the defendant is not liable for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff as it was purely an accident.
Act of God
Act of God serves as a good defence under the law of torts. It is also recognized as a valid defence in the rule of ‘Strict Liability’ in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher.

The defence of Act of God and Inevitable accident might look the same but they are different. Act of God is a kind of inevitable accident in which the natural forces play their role and causes damage. For example, heavy rainfall, storms, tides, etc.

Essentials required for this defence are:
Natural forces working should be there. There must be an extraordinary occurrence and not the one which could be anticipated and guarded against reasonably.
In Kallu Lal v. Hemchand, the wall of a building collapsed due to normal rainfall of about 2.66 inches. The incident resulted in the death of the respondent’s children. The court held that the defence of Act of God cannot be pleaded by the appellants in this case as that much rainfall was normal and something extraordinary is required to plead this defence. The appellant was held liable.

Private defence
The law has given permission to protect one’s life and property and for that, it has allowed the use of reasonable force to protect himself and his property.
The use of force is justified only for the purpose of self-defence.
There should be an imminent threat to a person’s life or property.
In Collins v. Renison, the plaintiff went up a ladder for nailing a board on a wall in the defendant’s garden. The defendant threw him off the ladder and when sued he said that he just gently pushed him off the ladder and nothing else. It was held that the force used was not justifiable as the defence.
The mistake is of two types:
Mistake of law
Mistake of fact
In both conditions, no defence is available to the defendant. When a defendant acts under a mistaken belief in some situations then he may use the defence of mistake to avoid his liability under the law of torts. In Morrison v. Ritchie & Co, the defendant by mistake published a statement that the plaintiff had given birth to twins in good faith. The reality of the matter was that the plaintiff got married just two months before. The defendant was held liable for the offence of defamation and the element of good faith is immaterial in such cases.
If an act is done to prevent greater harm, even though the act was done intentionally, is not actionable and serves as a good defence. It should be distinguished with private defence and an inevitable accident.
Statutory authority
If an act is authorized by any act or statute, then it is not actionable even if it would constitute a tort otherwise. It is a complete defence and the injured party has no remedy except for claiming compensation as may have been provided by the statute. Immunity under statutory authority is not given only for the harm which is obvious but also for the harm which is incidental. In Vaughan v. Taff Valde Rail Co. sparks from an engine of the respondent’s railway company were authorized to run the railway, set fire to the appellant’s woods on the adjoining land. It was held that since they did not do anything which was prohibited by the statute and took due care and precaution, they were not liable.
While learning about tort it is necessary to learn about General Defences in the law of Tort. General defences are a set of ‘excuses’ that you can undertake to escape liability. In order to escape liability in the case where the plaintiff brings an action against the defendant for a particular tort providing the existence of all the essentials of that tort, the defendant would be liable for the same. It mentions all the defences which can be pleaded in cases depending upon the circumstances and facts.

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