Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Recent Developments in Law of Tort


By: Robin Pandey                                                                                                 Date: 25/February/2022

Rule of No Fault Liability

 In spite of the above mentioned difficulties, the Law of Torts in India is developing. The main reasons for this is expansion of education and political consciousness in the Indian society about their rights. The tort litigation is increasing. Particularly, under the Motors Vehicles Act, 1988, now-a-days number of cases are going to the Courts. The main reasons for this is that the court fee is not charged on the basis of valuation and the claims are decided without delay by the Claims Tribunals. Under the Act there is a provision for compulsory compensation to be given in hit and run cases and in certain cases the principle of 'no fault liability' has been recognised. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 provides that in cases of death Rs. 50,000 and in cases of permanent incapacity Rs. 25,000/- compensation is payable to the person. 

Rule of Absolute Liability 

Indian Courts have refused to follow some of the doctrines of Law of Torts as established by the English Courts in the 19th century. The Supreme Court of India in the landmark decision in M.C. Mehta v. UOI , has established a new doctrine, “Doctrine of absolute liability", in place of the doctrine of strict liability which was established in the famous Case of Ryland v. Fletcher,  to deal with new situations in Society arising out of modern industrial development. There are certain exceptions to the rule of strict liability while present doctrine is absolute and not subject to any exceptions.

The Supreme Court of India has laid down the rule as follows: "Where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm results to anyone on account of an accident in the operation of such hazardous and inherently dangerous activity resulting, for example, in escape of toxic gas, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions which operates vis-a-vis the tortious principle of strict liability." 

In that case the harm was caused by the escape of olium gas from one of the units of Shriram Food and Fertiliser Industries which was situated in a residential area in Delhi. The court held that the rule of Rylands v. Fletcher, which was laid down in the 19th century by the English Highest Court does not fully meet the needs of a modern industrial society with highly developed scientific knowledge and technology where hazardous or inherently dangerous industries are necessary to be established as a development programme and therefore there is need to lay down new rule not yet recognised by English law, to deal with the problems arising in a highly industrialised economy.

After Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster and the controversies that ensued thereafter, courts, especially the Apex Court, have taken a liberal view in case of tort. In Jai Laxmi Salt Works (P) Ltd. v. State of Gujarat, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Mr. Justice Kuldip Singh and Mr. Justice R.M. Sahai observed that an action for tort was usually a claim for pecuniary compensation for damages which a plaintiff suffers as a result of the invasion of a legally protected interest. Since the law of torts is a developing law, its frontiers cannot be strictly barricaded. Their Lordships further observed that the entire law of tort is founded on morality that no one has a right to harm others. In this case, due to the rise of flood level, the water of the pond filtered into the factory premises of the appellant. In a claim for damages filed by the appellant, the State took the defence of act of God and limitation.

 The trial Court dismissed the suit on the ground that there was no negligence on the part of State as it was an act of God. In appeal the High Court recorded its findings in favour of the appellant but rejected the claim Tor compensation on the ground of limitation based on Article 36 of the Limitation Act, 1908, as it stood before 1963 to claim damages founded on negligence. The appellant filed an appeal against the decision of the High Court. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal and observed: If the construction of a bundh is a common law or public duty, then any loss or damage arising out of it gives rise to tortuous liability not in the conservative sense but certainly in the modern and developing sense. A common man cannot be left high and dry because wrongdoer is the State. The basic element of tort is duty. And that comes into play fully when there is common law duty."

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