The rule of absolute liability arose in 1987 after the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India.
Facts of the case: There was a leakage of oleum gas from one unit of Shriram Foods and fertilisers Industries in the city of Delhi. That unit belonged to Delhi Cloth Mills Ltd. As we all know Delhi is the capital of India and it’s one of the highly populated cities in India. As a consequence of extremely dangerous gas, several people lost their lives. Under article 32 of the Indian Constitution, the action was brought in the court. In the span of one year, this was the second case of such a large leakage of deadly gas. Before that, there was leakage of MIC has in Bhopal ( Bhopal has tragedy, as we popularly call it). The court thought that if the rule of strict liability would be applied in such cases, then owners who had established such ‘hazardous and inherently dangerous ‘ industries could escape the liability under exceptions that the rule provides. They can plead that the act which caused such and such incidence was the act of God and thus, can escape the liability. Then the Supreme Court of India stood for itself and its people, they evolved the 19th century-old rule to new rule I.e. ‘ Absolute Liability ‘.
Bhagwati C.J. observed in this context that:
“We are of the view that an enterprise, which is engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry which poses a potential threat to the health and safety of the persons working in the factory and residing in the surrounding areas owes an absolute and non-delegatable duty to the community to ensure that no harm results to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous activity which it has undertaken.
The enterprise must be held to be under an obligation to provide that the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity in which it is engaged must be conducted with the highest standards of safety and if any harm results on account of such activity the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm and it should be no answer to enterprise to say that it has taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part.”
Absolute liability does not offer any kind of defence against liabilities as that of under strict liability ( the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher).
The Court gave two reasons to justify the rule of Absolute Liability-
(1)- The industry or enterprise involved in such hazardous and inherently dangerous activity that can harm others when escaped, have a duty towards others. They have a social obligation to compensate the sufferer.
(2)- The industry or enterprise has the resources to discover and protect any hazard and danger.
Case law: Pramila Khatua v. CESU of Orissa.
Facts: The petitioner filed a case in Orissa court for compensation for her husband’s death. Her husband died due to electrocution by coming in contact with live electric wire which was snapped from the main overhead line and was lying naked on a field covered with grass.
Judgment: The court gave its judgement taking into consideration the principle of Absolute Liability. The court held that the ESU ( name of the company) was responsible for the maintenance of electric lines and were bound to take protective measures so that the electric wire did not fall on any surface or touch any human being or animal.
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