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Concept of Strict and Absolute Liability

 Concepts Of Strict Liability

The theory of strict liability can be characterised as acts or omissions that are judged accountable without the presence of mens rea (mental intent). It is a liability standard that may be applied in either a criminal or civil situation. Strict liability is a regulation that renders a person legally liable for the damage and loss caused by his or her actions and omissions, regardless of culpability, including criminal law blame.


The imposition of duty on a party without a finding of fault is known as strict liability in tort law (such as negligence or tortious intent). The claimant merely needs to show that the tort happened and that the defendant was to blame. A person is guilty and convicted in criminal law based on both actus reus (the banned conduct) and mens rea (reasonableness) (the intention to commit the prohibited act).


The criminal offence is built on the foundation of mens rea and actus reus. In circumstances of strict liability, however, the mens rea (intention) is immaterial in both cases. Even if the individual has no intention, he is guilty based on the act alone (actus reus). In this case, the criterion to show the offence does not include intent. There is also no requirement to establish negligence.


Because defendants will be convicted even if they were really unaware of one or more facts that made their conduct or omissions illegal, the responsibility is considered to be stringent. As a result, the defendants may not be responsible in any manner, i.e. there may not even be criminal negligence, the lowest degree of mens rea. These laws are used in regulatory offences imposing social conduct where a person’s punishment is modest, or if society is concerned with the avoidance of damage and desires to maximise the offence’s deterrent value.

The strict liability theory was established in England in the 19th century in Rylands vs. Fletcher.


The defendant was the owner of a mill, and he built a reservoir to supply water to the mill. This reservoir was built on top of historic coal mines, and the mill owner had no reason to believe that these previous excavations led to a working colliery. The water in the reservoir inundated the colliery by flowing down the ancient shafts.


Blackburn J. held the mill owner to be liable, on the principle that:

The person who for his own purposes brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequences of its escape.


The House of Lords upheld the idea of liability without fault on appeal, but limited it to non-natural uses. This theory covers companies that deal with water, power, oil, hazardous gases, colliery waste, and dangerous vegetation.

Essentials Of Strict Liability:

For the application of the rule of strict liability, there are three main essential ingredients that should to present.

Some dangerous thing must be brought by a person on his land

The dangerous thing brought by the person must escape the premise.

There must be a non- natural use of the land.

Some Dangerous Thing Must Be Brought By A Person On His Land

It implies that if a person utilises dangerous objects and causes harm to another person, that person is obliged to compensate the other person for the harm he has caused. Dangerous things, according to this theory, include vast amounts of water, gas, electricity, explosives, and so on. The presence of a big amount of water was likewise declared a harmful item in the Rylands Vs. Fletcher[2] case, and the defendant was ordered to compensate the plaintiff.

 

The Dangerous Thing Brought By The Person Must Escape The Premise

Another important component of Strict Liability is escape, which specifies that anything that causes injury to another person must be escaped from the person’s property and should not be within reach of the person. For instance, suppose A has developed some poisonous plants that might cause great injury to anyone or any animal that consumes them. If B’s Sheep ate that plant because some of them had fallen on B’s land, then A is obligated to recompense B for his loss; but, if B’s Sheep entered A’s property and ate that plant, then A is not liable for the loss.

Read Vs. Lyons & Co. decided that where there is no escape from the defendant’s property, the defendant is not responsible to pay the plaintiff for the damage he has suffered.

 

There Must Be A Non-Natural Use Of Land

It means that if stored water is used for a natural purpose, such as domestic purposes, a person cannot be held liable for any harm caused by it; however, if it is used for a non-natural purpose, such as in the case of Rylands Vs. Fletcher[4], the defendant used the land to build a reservoir to benefit its mill, putting others in danger, and thus he was liable for the plaintiff’s loss.

Exceptions To The Rule

There are certain exceptions to this rule of liability where the defendant will be freed from all forms of liability.

Those exceptions are as follows:

Plaintiff Is The Wrongdoer

If the claimant’s act or default is the only source of the injury, he has no recourse. Assume a person visits someone’s property knowing there is a vicious dog on the premises that can bite him. Also, if he enters and gets bitten by a dog, he will be unable to seek compensation. This was mentioned as a defence in Rylands v Fletcher. If a person is aware that his mine may be flooded as a result of his neighbor’s operations on adjacent ground, and he accepts the risk by acting in a way that makes flooding more likely, he cannot complain.


Similarly, in Ponting v Noakes 5, the claimant’s horse crossed the defendant’s boundary, nibbled a poisonous tree there, and died as a result, and it was held that the claimant could recover nothing because the damage was caused by the horse’s own intrusion and alternatively because no vegetation had escaped. As we can see, the object does not escape from the defendant’s property, and the plaintiff was at fault for not taking sufficient care of his horse dues, which he is liable for.

 

Statutory Authority

By legislation, the rule in Rylands v Fletcher might be overturned. Whether this is true or not is a matter of interpreting the legislation in question. For example, in Green v Chelsea Waterworks Co6, a main belonging to a water-works company, which was authorised by Parliament to lay the main, broke without any negligence on the company’s part, flooding the claimant’s properties; the business was found not responsible. In Cross Electricity Co v Hydraulic Power Co7, on the other hand, when the facts were identical, the defendants were found to be responsible and had no defence against the interpretation of their legislation. The difference between the two examples is that the Hydraulic Power was authorised by legislation to supply water for industrial reasons, which meant they had permissive authority but not mandatory authority, and they were not required to maintain their mains charged with water at high pressure or at all. The Chelsea Waterworks Co. was permitted by laws to lay mains and was required by law to provide a continuous supply of water; as a result, damage was an unavoidable consequence.

 

Act Of Third Party

According to this, if injury is produced by a stranger or third party, and there is no negligence on the part of either the plaintiff or defendant, but the loss occurs as a result of the stranger’s act, the defendant is not accountable. The term “stranger” or “third person” does not include the defendant’s servants, agents, or other employees.

 

Consent Of The Plaintiff

This exception states that if a person is aware of the potential for damage during a particular act and yet performs that conduct, he is responsible for his own actions. He can’t hold anyone else responsible for that behaviour unless that person was irresponsible in some way and he was unaware of it. Volenti Non Fit Injuria is another name for this.

 

Vis Major Or Act Of God

It is another exemption that declares that if the loss is caused by an act of God, such as a flood, earthquake, or other natural calamity, no one will be held responsible because these events are beyond human control. The Act of God defence applies when the escape is induced directly by natural forces without human interference under “circumstances that no human foresight can give and of which human wisdom is not obligated to perceive the likelihood.” The most crucial aspect of this defence is that the object escaped without the defendant’s knowledge, and that the breakout was so unusual that no one could have predicted it.

Dstinction Between Strict And Absolute Liability

The major differences between strict and absolute liability are as follows:

In absolute liability, the destruction is mass destruction, but in strict liability, the destruction is restricted to a certain level.

In absolute liability, there is no defence available for the defendant, whereas in strict liability, the defendant can claim defences such as act of god, plaintiff is the wrongdoer, third party interventions etc

In absolute liability, the compensation paid to the plaintiff is determined on the basis of the the financial stability of the company causing the action that gives rise to absolute liability. In strict liability however, the compensation is determined by the nature and the amount of damage caused.

In absolute liability, it doesn’t really matter whether the harmful substance escapes. Even if any harm is caused inside the premise, the defendant will be held liable. However in the case of strict liability, escape of the harmful substance is an essential element.



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