Strict and absolute liability
By swatee shukla
One of the fundamental principles of torts is that a person can be held liable only if he has caused harm. However, as things stand this principle has been modified to include the situations where a person can be held liable for the harm he did not cause either negligently or negligently.in such a situation a person can be held liable even though he is not responsible for the harm. This is also known as ‘no-fault liability. Both strict and absolute liability are called no-fault liability because, if there was a fault of the defendant, the same tort would convert to negligence.
This principle of strict liability finds its origin after the famous English case called Rylands v. Fletcher (1868). After this case supreme court laid down this principle of strict liability. This principle states that if a person brings a potentially dangerous thing on his land, and if such a thing escapes and does damage, then such person should be held responsible, even if he were not negligent. For the application of this rule, three essentials are necessary. Firstly, some dangerous thing must have been brought by a person on his land. That means it is necessary for a thing escaping from one’s land to be a dangerous thing i. e. things likely to do mischief if it escapes. This rule has been applied to dangerous things such as electricity, vibration, sewage, explosives, snakes, etc.
Secondly, it must be a non-natural use of land. For the use of land to be non-natural, it must be some other use with its increased danger to others, and must not merely be the ordinary use of land or such a use as is proper for the general benefit of a community. For example, if an overhead tank is used by a resident, it would be deemed a natural use, while constructing a very large reservoir and its use was deemed unnatural by the British court while deciding the case of Rylands v. Fletcher. Thus, if the natural use of the water tank resulted in some sort of leakage into the neighbor’s premises, it would not be deemed as a tort where the rule of strict liability lies.
The third essential that is necessary for the application of the rule of strict liability is that the thing thus brought or kept by a person o his land must escape and cause liability. That means, it is also essential that the thing causing the damage must escape to the area outside the occupation and control of the defendant and cause mischief or damage to the plaintiff.
Absolute liability- absolute liability is similar to strict liability, the only difference being that there are no defenses available in absolute liability. This rule would be applicable only when extremely dangerous activities are involved. This is a principle developed in the Indian court.
in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India(1987). In this case, there was a leakage of Oleum gas from one of the units of Sriram Industries in Delhi, this resulting in injury to several people. The supreme court of India moved beyond the principle of strict liability and evolved a new rule creating absolute liability for harm caused by hazardous industries. This liability has no defense at all if ingredients can be proved. The logic used was that a person who carries on a dangerous activity for profit is responsible for any harm that may flow from such activity, and also that the enterprise alone has the opportunity and resources to discover and guard against such hazards or dangers. This principle was followed in the famous Bhopal gas leak case as well as other environmental pollution cases where general masses suffered adversely.