Author : Aayushi, Student at UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Whenever any person commits an act which infringes the legal right of another person, a liability arises because of the wrong committed by him. Liability is a legal obligation which arises as a result of loss caused to another. But there are certain situations where a person is liable even when he is not negligent. Doesn’t it astonish that a person is made liable for an act without his being at fault because generally a person is liable for his own wrongful acts. This concept is known as no fault liability. Now the question arises that why there is a need of no fault liability? In sociological school of jurisprudence Roscoe Pound explain in his jural postulate 5 that “In a civilized society men must be able to assume that others who maintain things or employ agencies, harmless in the sphere of their use but harmful in their normal action elsewhere and having a natural tendency to cross the boundaries of their proper use will restrain them and keep them within their proper bounds”.
From this postulate we can conclude that whenever a person possess such a thing which is escape will cause injury to others then such person would be liable even if he is not negligent for the escape of such a thing.
To understand the concept of no fault liability, we need to analyze to very important rules that is rule of strict liability and rule of absolute liability.
RULE OF STRICT LIABILITY
It was the case of Rylands v. Fletcher which gave birth to the rule of strict liability.
Facts: Rylands and Fletcher were neighbors living next to each other. Fletcher got a reservoir constructed over his land for providing water to his mill through independent contractors. There were old disused shafts under the site of the water reservoir which the independent contractor failed to observe and thus did not block them. When the water filled in reservoir, it burst through the shafts and flooded the Rylands Coal mines. This caused a huge loss and damage to Ryland but here Fletcher did not know of the shafts and had not been negligent. But even then he was held liable.
Strict liability arises whenever a person keeps a dangerous thing on his land, which if escaped is likely to cause damage. The liability arises not because there was any fault or negligence on the part of person, but because there was a non-natural use of land by him. The principle of strict liability includes some exceptions. These are the exceptions which help the person to escape his liability. Following are the exceptions to the rule of strict liability:
- Plaintiffs on default
The defence of Ex Turpi Causa Non Oritur Actio or plaintiff the wrong doer is also applicable in the rule of strict liability as defendant can escape his liability if plaintiff suffers damage by his own intrusion into the defendants property, thus in this case defendant would not be held liable.
- Act of God
Act of God is a general defence which is also recognized to be a valid defence in rule of strict liability. Thus, if the escape has been because of extra ordinary and super natural forces, then defence of act of god is applicable.
- Consent of the Plaintiff
The rule of strict liability recognizes the general defence of Volenti Non Fit Injuria. As according to this defence, if plaintiff has consent to the accumulation of dangerous thing on defendants land, the defendant’s liability will not arise.
- Act of Third Party
If the damage to the plaintiff is caused due to the act of a third person, or a stranger who has no relation with defendant, then defendant will not be liable under this rule.
- Statutory authority
The damage resulting from an act authorized by any statutory authority is not actionable even if it causes damage to plaintiff. This defence is available under the rule of strict liability.
RULE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY
It was the case of M.C Mehta v. Union of India which gave birth to Absolute Liability in India.
Facts: On the date of 4th and 6th December 1985 there was a leakage of oleum gas from one of the units of an Industry named Shriram Foods and Fertilizers Industry. Because of the gas leakage one advocate had died and several other people were badly affected. Thus, a writ petition by the way of Public Interest Litigation was filed under the article 32 of the Constitution.
Supreme Court evolved the rule of Absolute liability for enterprises or industries which are engaged in harmful and hazardous activities which poses a threat to the health and safety of the people working in their industries or enterprises as well as to the people living in surroundings. It is the duty of the owners of the enterprises to ensure safety to the people against all the hazardous objects and activities which can cost life. If the activity results in causing harm even after maintaining highest standards of safety the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for the harm caused and the enterprise cannot escape its liability on the grounds that harm occurred without any negligence its part.
The rule of absolute liability is different from the rule of Strict Liability because in the rule of absolute liability the defendant cannot escape his liability for the havoc caused. Other difference is that in Strict Liability the compensation payable is according to the nature and quantum of damages caused and on the other hand in the case of Absolute Liability the damages to be paid are exemplary in nature, and it depends upon the magnitude and financial capacity of the enterprise. Absolute Liability is a wider concept than the Strict Liability because element of escape is not an essential doctrine of absolute liability. It means that even if any hazardous substance does not escape from the premises of the industry but causes harm to the workers within the premises, the enterprise may be held absolutely liable.
With the development of science and technology it became very important to introduce the concept of Absolute liability in India because if the rule of Strict Liability applied to these situations then those who had established dangerous and hazardous industries could escape the liability by pleading some exception to the rule of Strict Liability. Whereas, it is the duty of these enterprises that carry such harmful activities for private profit to absorb all the loss caused.
It was a very bold decision taken by the Supreme Court of India because India is a country in which there are many poor people and whenever any such incident happens then mainly these people become prey of the hazardous activities carried in such industries and if only the rule of Strict Liability would be made applicable then millions of people will remain deprived of their justice.
No fault liability arises when a person is made liable for an act without his being at fault. No fault liability is the need of time. Justice Bhagwati rightly observed that we should not restrict ourselves to the law of England and evolve our law by making new principles according to the present requirements which are compatible with the needs of society. The same is observed in the case of Strict and Absolute Liability also as rule of Strict Liability was evolved in time when there was very less development of science and technology and was no need of Absolute liability. But with the evolution of science and technology introduction of Absolute Liability became very much necessary to ensure that justice is not denied to anyone.
 Shubham Kumar “What is Social Engineering”? <http: //www.google.com/amo/s/blog.ipleaders.in/all-about-social-engineering/amp/article> accessed 14 October 2020
 Rylands v. Fletcher (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 330
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 321
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 322
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 40,324
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 44,325
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 28,327
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 48
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987) S.C. 1086
 R.K Bangia, Law of Torts ( 23rd edn, Allahabad Law Agency,2013) 334
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 Mantul Bajpai “Strict liability v. Absolute liability vis-à-vis the Visakhapatnam Gas Leak Tragedy: Why the NGT order is cause of concern”. (13th May 2020) <http:// www.barandbench.com / article> accessed 14th October 2020
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987) S.C. 1086