Strict liability is a topic of the Law of Torts. The concept of strict liability evolved from the very famous case Rylands V. Fletcher of 1868, in which the House OF Lord gives the rule of ‘NO FAULT’ liability which means even if the defendant has no intention to cause any harm, even if the defendant was not negligent or he was careful, he will be held liable under the rule.
Rylands V. Fletcher
In this case, the defendant employed an independent contractor to build a reservoir on his land for providing water to his mill, he has no role In that work. During the construction, the contractor finds that there was an old shaft which they ignore, and continued their work. And tThe results were that when they try to fill the reservoir burst and flooded into the plaintiff’s property where there was a coal mine which causes huge damage around 937 euros (88,700 euros in the current time). Plaintiff sued him. The court held that defendant will be held liable not because of his negligence but the substance that is a reservoir in his land was hazardous and escapes from his property so he is responsible for the accident and the cause of the damage and the principle of strict liability laid down in this case.
Principle Of Strict Liability
According to the principle of strict liability if a person brings any hazardous material or substance to his property and if the substance escapes and causes any damage, the person from whose the substance escaped will be liable even he was not negligent or have no intention to cause any damage.
Essentials of Strict Liability
- Dangerous thing – There must be dangerous or hazardous things on the premises.
- Escape- That dangeros thing must be an escape.
- Non-natural use of land- The use of land should be non-natural. Non-natural means something which is not natural like making reservoir by the defendant in Rylands V. Fletcher case.
But there are some exceptions of strict liability that is
- Act of God;
- Plaintiff’s fault;
- The wrongful act of the third party;
- Consent of the Plaintiff;
- Statutory Authority.
Act of God
There are some conditions or circumstances which we normally cannot predict because it is a sudden and direct act of nature or an act of God. For example, earthquakes, tsunami, floods, heavy rainfall, etc. Any damage caused due to an act of God does not come under strict liability. The The case of Nichols V. Marshland is a good example. In this case, the defendant created an artificial lake on his roof and one day there was a heavy rainfall by which the lake swelled so much and the flow of water washed away the plaintiff’s four bridges. The plaintiff sued him to recover the damage. But the court held that defendant was not liable because the accident was caused by an act of God.
If the damage caused by the defendant’s fault it would be a good defense. The case of Ponting v. Noakes is the best example of this. In this case, the plaintiff’s horse entered the defendant’s house and died after eating the leaves of poisonous trees there. The plaintiff sued him in court. The court held that there was a hazardous substance that is a poisonous tree but it was not escaped the defendant’s property, it was a horse who entered and ate those leaves and died hence the defendant was held not liable because there was no escape and it was the plaintiff’s fault.
NOTE- If the leaves of that tree come out of the premises of the defendant and then if the horse died by eating those leaves, the defendant would be held liable because there was an escape.
The wrongful act of the third party
If the act has been caused by the stranger who is not known of the defendant’s or defendant has not any control over him, in those circumstances, the defendant would not be held liable under this exception. If in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher the damage caused by the stranger, the defendant would not be held liable. Another case was Box v. Jubb, in this case, the damage was caused because the stranger blocked the drain of the defendant’s reservoir. Hence the defendant was not held liable for that.
Consent of the plaintiff
According to this exception, if two persons are having benefit from the same thing like from the water supply, electricity, etc., the defendant will not be held liable unless there is negligence on his part. For example, in the case of Carstairs v. Taylor, the plaintiff took the ground floorr from the defendant, the defendant was on the upper floor. One day the water was stored on the upper floor without any negligence of the defendant and cause the damage of goods of the plaintiffs on the ground floor. Plaintiff sued him and the court held that the water stored on the upper floor was for a benefit for them both and there was no negligence on the defendant’s part hence defendant was not liable for the cause of damage.
An act done under the authority of a statute is a defense of strict liability, but statutory authority cannot be pleaded as a defense if there is negligence. In the case of Green v. Chelsea Waterworks Co., the defendant Co. had a statutory duty to supply water. One day a joint was burst without any negligence on the defendant’s part, due to which water flooded into the plaintiff’s house. It was held that there was no negligence on the defendant’s part and the company was performing statutory authority hence the defendant was not held liable for that.
The rule of strict liability is an interesting and an exception topic of law of torts because normally you are liable if there is your fault but in strict liability the scenario is opposite, you will be held liable even without your fault which is called ‘No-fault liability. You will be held liable even you are not responsible for that. But there are some exceptions to strict liability which can be used as a defense.
Reference: Law of Torts by DR. R.K. Bangia
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