Strict Liability Under Law of Torts
The concept of Strict liability constitutes an important part of tort law. This principle was first developed in the case of Rylands vs. Fletcher where Blackburn. J, held that,
“We think that the true rule of law is, that the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, he is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of his escape. He can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiff’s default; or perhaps that the escape was the consequence of vis major or the act of God; but as nothing of this sort exists here, it is unnecessary to inquire what excuse would be sufficient.” Therefore the principle of strict liability confers upon an individual legal responsibility for any damages or injuries that have occurred due to the escape of the dangerous object brought by that particular individual.
The rule laid down by Blackburn lays down a few requirements.
- The defendant should have brought an object upon his land/ premises.
- Highlighting the difference between the naturally occurring objects on the land and non-natural things the court laid down the requirement that there should be a non-natural use of land. This rule extends to any object that could potentially cause mischief or any form of damage to others on escaping the property of that particular individual. In the case of Rylands vs. Fletcher, the object was water. Despite being a naturally occurring object it caused damage to the plaintiff. Therefore, water, in this case, could be ascertained as a dangerous object.
- This brings us to the important element, escape. The principle emphasises upon the escape of the dangerous thing so brought on the land, which makes that particular individual “prima facie” liable. Prima face is a legal maxim refers to a state of affairs where it is sufficient to establish a fact unless proves otherwise.
- There shall be a damage of some sort in order to impose this liability.
However in the case of the Cambridge Water Co. v Eastern Countries Leather plc . The principle of strict liability laid down in the case of Rylands v Fletcher was subjected to a few modifications by making “ foreseeability” of the damage occurred an additional requirement to the principle of strict liability.
DEFENCES OF STRICT LIABILITY
- Consent: consent either in the form of implied or expressed form will be a valid defence. Therefore the consent given by the plaintiff acknowledging the presence of the object and the danger ascertained to it will absolve the defendant. However, this consent does not free the defendant from any negligence on his part.
- Common Benefit: if the object, which has a quality of danger or unnatural use has been positioned for the common benefit of both the parties, the claimant and defendant. In which case the defended will not be liable.
- Act of a stranger: The defended can be absolved from the liability if an act of the third party contributed to the escape. In Rickards v Lothian  AC 263, the defendant was held not liable when a third party, unknown to the defendant and plaintiff caused the escape.
- Statutory authority: when the act has been carried out due to a statute or on the orders of a statutory requirement. This can be used as a defence.
- Act of God: a defence mentioned in Ryland vs Fletcher and further developed in Tennent v Earl of Glasgow. An of god which is beyond any human foresight or the knowledge of a prudent man. However the purview of “Act of God” has been extending ever since. In Greenock Corporation v Caledonian Railway , the defended constructed a pool upon a stream upon heavy the stream broke out and damaged the surrounding property. Here the court did not excuse the defendant of the damages paid.
- Plaintiff is a wrongdoer: lastly, if the plaintiff/claimant himself is the cause of the escape the defendant will escape the liability. However, there can also be a prospect of contributory negligence
REMEDIES UNDER TORTS
The damages under the tort law are awarded to the plaintiff in order to restore his position, the one where he/she might be have been had the tort did not occur. Damages are the amount of money by the wrongdoer to the plaintiff or claimant. Damages can be classified into, compensatory (or actual) damage, punitive damages, special damages, general damages. Depending upon the case and the damage caused the court ascertains these damages.
- Rylands v Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330,
- Water Co. v Eastern Countries Leather plc  2 AC 264.
- Tennent v Earl of Glasgow (1864) 2 M (HL) 22 at 26-27).
- Greenock Corporation v Caledonian Railway  AC 556.
- In Rickards v Lothian  AC 263
- Law of Torts With Consumer Protection Act by RK Bangia
- The Law of Torts by Ratanlal & Dhirajlal