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Discuss The Rule Of Strict Liability With Essential Elements

What is Strict Liability?

There is a situation, when a person may be liable for some harm even though he is not negligent in causing the same or there is no intention to cause them harm. When someone consumes dangerous activities such as keeping wild animals, using explosives or making malfunctioning products, then they may be held legally responsible if someone else is injured.
In this connection, the rule laid down in two cases, firstly in Rayland and Fletcher[1] Case and Secondly in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[2] Case.
The rule laid down in Rayland v. Fletcher is generally recognized as the rule of “Rayland v. Fletcher” or “Rule of Strict Liability” and for the reason that of the different exceptions it would be preferable to call it the “rule of strict Liability” rather than calling it “Absolute liability”

Rayland v. Fletcher Case:
In this case, the defendant (Fletcher) got a reservoir constructed, through independent contractors, over his land for providing water to his mill. There were old abandoned shafts under the site of the tank which the contractor unsuccessful to examine and so did not block them. When the water was filled in the reservoir, it burst through the shafts and flooded the plaintiff’s (Rayland’s) coal mines on the adjoining land. The defendant didn’t know the shafts and had not been negligent although the independent contractors had been. Even though the defendant had not been negligent, he was held liable.

In this case, it has been laid down the rule recognizing “No fault” liability. The liability recognized was “strict liability” i.e even if the defendant was not negligent or rather even if the defendant didn’t intentionally cause harm or he was careful, he could still be made liable under this rule.

Essential Elements of Strict liabilities:

For the application of the rule, some essential elements should be there.
1) Dangerous things
2) Escape
3) Non-natural use of land

1) Dangerous things:

According to the rule of strict liability, the liability for the escape of a thing from one’s ground arises provided the thing collected was a hazardous thing i.e., a thing likely to do harm if it escapes.
In Rayland v. Fletcher case, the thing so collected was a large body of water. The rule has also been applied to gas[3], electricity[4], trees etc.

2) Escape:

For the rule Ryland v. Fletcher to apply, it is also necessary that the thing causing the harm must escape to the area outside the livelihood and management of the defendant.
Thus, if there is a projection of the branches of a poisonous tree on the neighbor’s land, this amounts to an escape and if the cattle lawfully there on the neighbor’s land are poisoned by eating the leaves of the same, the defendant will be liable under the rule. But if the plaintiff’s horse intrudes over the boundary and dies by nibbling the leaves of a poisonous tree, the defendant cannot be liable because there is no escape of the vegetation in this case.

In another case Read v. Lyons & Co.[5] The plaintiff was a worker in the defendant’s shell factory. While she was performing her duties inside the defendant’s premises, a shell, which was being manufactured there, exploded whereby she was injured. There was no evidence of negligence on the part of the defendants even though the shell which had exploded was a dangerous thing. It will help that the defendant was not liable because there was no escape of the thing outside of the defendant’s premises and therefore the rule in Ryland v. Fletcher didn’t apply to this case

3) Non-natural use of land:

In the case, Ryland v. Fletcher, the water collected in the reservoir in such a huge quantity was held to be non-natural use of land. Keeping water for ordinary purposes is “natural use”. For the use of non-natural, it must be some special use bringing with it increased danger to others and must not merely be ordinary use of land or such a use as is proper for the general benefit of the community.
In the case Noble v. Harrison[6], it has been held that trees on one’s land are not non-natural things. The limb of the nonpoisonous tree rising on the defendant’s land, which overhung on the highway, suddenly broke and fell on the plaintiff’s vehicle passing along the highway. The branch was broken off due to some latent defect.
in this case, the defendant could not be made liable under the rule in Ryland v. Fletcher case because as the growth of trees is not a non-natural thing.

[1] (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 330

[2]  A.I.R 1987 S.C. 1086

[3] Batcheller v. Tunbrige Wells gas co. , ( 190) 84 L.T. 765

[4] National Telephone Co. V. Baker, (1893) 2 Ch. 186

[5] (1947) A.C. 156

[6] (1926)2 K.B. 332

This Article is Authored by Farheen Sultana, 4th Year B.A.LLB Student at Haldia Law College.

Also Read – Rule of Absolute Liability and Strict Liability.

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