The Rule of Strict Liablity

Measuring liability of an Enterprise engaged in an hazardous or inherently dangerous industry, if by reason of an accident occurring in such industry, person die or are injured

The Rule of Strict Liability – Measuring liability of an Enterprise engaged in an hazardous or inherently dangerous industry, if by reason of an accident occurring in such industry, person die or are injured The above situation arose for consideration in the factual background of death of son of the Petitioner due to electrocution. A high voltage over-head electric line passing through the village and house of the Petitioner got snapped and fell on the deceased, who died instantly. The statutory enquiry as conducted fixed the blame on both, the officials of the electricity department as well as Petitioner. No evidence however was cited to conclude that the construction of the residential buildings was made after installation of the electrical lines or that any effort was made to shift the offending electrical line. A reference was made to the famous English authority on strict liability i.e. Rylands v. Fletcher, which stipulates as under: • A person who brings on his land, collects and keeps there anything likely to do harm and such thing escapes and does damage to another, he is liable to compensate for the damage caused. • The rule applies only to non-natural user of the land and not to things naturally on the land. • The rule also does not apply to a situation where the escape is due to an act of God and an act of a stranger or the default of the person injured or where the thing which escapes is present by consent of the person injured or in certain cases where there is statutory authority. Accordingly, as laid down in M.C. Mehta case [(1987) 1 SCC 397], in the current changed perspective when there has been economic development all around, there is a need is to construct a new principle of liability to deal with an unusual situation which has arisen and which is likely to arise in future on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous industries. Enterprises engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry posing a potential threat to the health and safety of the persons working in the factory and residing in the surrounding areas must ensure that: • No harm should result to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous nature of the activity which it has undertaken. • These enterprises are under an obligation to ensure observance of highest standards of safety. • If any harm results on account of such activity, the enterprise must be absolutely liable to compensate for such harm. • Such enterprises should not be allowed to carry a defence that it had taken all reasonable care and the harm occurred without any negligence on their part. • Since the person harmed on account of the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity carried on by the enterprise would not be in a position to isolate the process of operation from the hazardous preparation of substance or any other related element, the enterprise must be held strictly liable for causing such harm for carrying out hazardous or inherently dangerous activity. • The law must presume that permission to enterprise in carrying out above mentioned activity is conditional on the enterprise absorbing the cost of any accident arising on account of such activity as an appropriate item of its overheads. • Such activity should indemnify all those who suffer on account such activity regardless of whether it is carried on carefully or not, as the enterprise alone has the source to discover and guard against hazards or dangers and to provide warning against potential hazards. In view of the above principles, in the instant case it was held that the enquiry report conclusively established that the Board officials failed to take adequate precaution to prevent accident of the nature complained of by the Petitioner, hence the Board was liable. Jyoti Prasad Bora @ Midul Bora vs. The State of Assam and Others [Gauhati HC, 05.11.2013]