Generally, a man is held liable for his negligence which results into harm or violation of rights of others. But there are certain exceptions to this general principle of liability. Such cases are those where a person is held liable for his act even though he did not do it intentionally or negligently. In other words, he is held liable respective of negligence or carefulness. These cases are covered under the rule of Strict liability which is also known as ‘Absolute liability’.
In case is covered under Strict liability, the wrong arises from breach of an Absolute duty. An ‘Absolute duty’ may be defined as a duty which renders a man liable without any fault of his and irrespective of any consideration of intention or negligence on his part. The principle of absolute liability has been enunciated by Blackburn., J of the Exchequer of Court and affirmed by the house of Lords in Rylands versus Fletcher thus,
“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 be kept his peril and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is natural consequence of its escape”.
The doctrine of strict liability is applicable in cases involving wild animals, dangerous premises or substances, electricity, water, fire explosives etc. which are capable of escape. The object of absolute ability is not to prevent persons from undertaking hazardous and adventurous activities. The law only expects a person to do such acts at his own peril, and keep himself ready to compensate the person wronged if any injuries caused to him by the wrongful act.
Salmond has group cases of the Strict Liability under following three heads: mistake of law, mistake of fact and inevitable accident.
- Mistake of Law
An act done under the mistake of law is not said to be an intentional act because the doer of it does not know that what he’s doing is prohibited by the law. If a person has committed a wrong under mistake of law, the law will not hear him say that he had no guilty mind and that but for his ignorance of law, he would not have done it. Ignorance of law is no excuse in almost all legal systems. This is expressed in the maxim ignorantia jurist meminem excusat.
- Mistake of Fact
It is generally said that mistake of fact is a good defence in law of crimes. However, in English and Indian law, mistake of fact is not a defence in civil wrongs. He who interferes with the right of another should not be allowed to say that he believed in good faith and on reasonable grounds in existence of some circumstances which justified his act.
In R versus Prince (1875 2 CCR 154), a person who abducted a girl under the legal age of consent was held and the plea of inevitable mistake as to her age failed as a defence. This is so because the act of taking the girl away from its wrongful. However, if the intention is lawful, the mistake of fact is valid defence in criminal law.
- Inevitable Accident
Inevitable Accident is commonly recognized ground of exemption from liability both in civil and criminal law. Accident may either be culpable or inevitable. It is culpable when caused due to negligence but when the avoidance of it would have required a degree of care exceeding the standard demanded by law. In other words, an inevitable accident is that which could not be possibly prevented but that size of ordinary care, caution and skin. That is, it must be a physically unavoidable nature.
Although inevitable accident serves as a good defence both in civil and criminal law, but in civil law, there are some exceptions when inevitable accident cannot be availed as a ground for defence. The cases involving Strict liability is one of the exception.
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