Strict liability: it means that when the defendant is liable for committing an action regardless of what the person mental state was at that time of committing the act. The principle of strict liability evolved in the case of Ryland v Fletchers. It stated that any person who keeps hazardous in his premises will be held responsible if such substances escape the premises and causes any damage to others. In this case F had a mill on his land, and to power the mill, F built a reservoir on his land. Due to some accident, the water from the reservoir flooded the coal mines owned by R. After that incident, R filed a suit against F. The Court held that the defendant built the reservoir at his risk, and in course of it, if any accident happens then the defendant will be liable for the accident and escape of the material.
There are some essentials of strict liability as followed:
- Dangerous substance: There are a few prerequisites that need to be met on the responsibility of taking on the category, out of grave responsibility. For the purposes of the seriousness of the debt, it is a dangerous element that can be defined as any element that is likely to cause, any injury, loss or damage that is if it is leaking. Things such as explosives, toxic gases, electric, etc
- Escape: One more essential condition to make the defendant strictly liable is that the material should escape from the premises and shouldn’t be within the reach of the defendant after its escape.
- Non-natural Use: To constitute a strict liability, there should be a non-natural use of the land. In the case of Rylands v. Fletcher, the water collected in the reservoir was considered to be a non-natural use of the land. Storage of water for domestic use is considered to be natural use. But storing water for the purpose of energizing a mill was considered non-natural by the Court. When the term “non-natural” is to be considered, it should be kept in mind that there must be some special use which increases the danger to others. Supply of cooking gas through the pipeline, electric wiring in a house, etc. is considered to be the natural use of land. For instance, if the defendant lights up a fire in his fireplace and a spark escapes and causes a fire, the defendant will not be held liable as it was a natural use of the land.
Exception to the Rule of Strict Liability
- Plaintiff’s Fault: If the plaintiff is at fault and any damage is caused, the defendant wouldn’t be held liable, as the plaintiff himself came in contact with the dangerous thing.
- Act of God: The phrase “act of God” can be defined as an event which is beyond the control of any human agency. Such acts happen exclusively due to natural reasons and cannot be prevented even while exercising caution and foresight.
- Act of the Third Party: The rule also doesn’t apply when the damage is caused due to the act of a third party. The third party means that the person is neither the servant of the defendant, nor the defendant has any contract with them or control over their work.
The rule of absolute liability, in simple words, can be defined as the rule of strict liability minus the exceptions. In India, the rule of absolute liability evolved in the case of MC Mehta v Union of India. The facts of the case are that some oleum gas leaked in a particular area in Delhi from industry. Due to the leakage, many people were affected. The Apex Court then evolved the rule of absolute liability on the rule of strict liability and stated that the defendant would be liable for the damage caused without considering the exceptions to the strict liability rule.