Inevitable Accident in Tort


The French term ‘tort’ is the equivalent of the English word ‘wrong’ as well as the Roman term ‘delict.’ Tort comes from the Latin term ‘tortum,’ which implies twisted or crooked. Tortuous liability emerges from the breach of a legal obligation, which is owed to all people, and its breach is punishable by an action for unliquidated damages (Winfield and Jolowicz, 2002). A tort, according to Salmond, is a civil wrong for which the remedy is a common action for unliquidated damages and which is not simply a breach of contract, trust, or other ordinary equitable obligation. In simple words, a tort is an act or omission that causes injury or harm to another person and is treated as a civil wrong by the courts. In tort law, “injury” refers to the violation of any legal right, whereas “harm” refers to the actual loss that an individual experiences.

The doctrine of “inevitable accident” is a well-established general defense under tort law that negates culpability. It has its origin in the early English common law system. An “inevitable accident” is one that could not have been avoided with ordinary prudence, caution, and skill. Sir Frederick Pollock has defined an inevitable accident as, “not avoidable by any such precautions as a reasonable man, doing such an act then there could be expected to take.” In other words, it refers to an accident that the defendant could not have averted if he had exercised the sort and degree of caution required by the urgency and circumstances in which he found himself. The word ‘accident’ itself means “an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap”.[1]

The defense of ‘inevitable accident’ is available when some harm occurs during the performance of a legitimate act, done with all reasonable care, for any unavoidable reason, and as such, the damage does not give rise to a cause of action.  It is one of the several general defenses available to the defendant under tort law, and is based on the premise that if the defendants had no intention of causing the injury and the plaintiff was injured as a result, they will not be held accountable. This defense allows a defendant to remove the liability or claim its waiver due to the fault of the unforeseen circumstances.

Types of Inevitable Accident in Tort

All causes of inevitable accident may be classified into two categories:

  1. Those which are occasioned by the elementary forces of nature unconnected with the agency of man or other cause; The term “act of God” is associated with this category.; and
  2. Those which have their origin either in the whole or in part in the agency of man, whether in acts of commission or omission, nonfeasance or of misfeasance, or in any other causes independent of the agency of natural forces.[2]

As a whole, while the former cause is associated with ‘divine interference’ or ‘act of God’ or ‘vis major’, the latter is connected with ‘human agency or intervention’. Moreover, in the former case, there must be an extraordinary occurrence occasioned by force of nature such as volcanic eruption or extraordinary high tide, lightning, volcanic eruption etc. It must be noted that vis major does not involve human agency or foresight.

Essentials of Inevitable Accident in Tort

To plead the defense of ‘inevitable accident’ under Tort, the following essentials must be met:-

  1. There must be an accident;
  2. The accident must be unforeseeable, unintentional and unavoidable;
  3. There must have been exercise of care, caution and skill as expected of a reasonable person in those circumstances. That is to say, there must be no negligence on part of the person; and
  4. It must result in harm, injury, damage, or loss to another person (the claimant).

Limitations of the Defense of Inevitable Accident

The major limitation on the application of the defense of Inevitable Accident is that it does not encompass the following torts and principle(s) in tort law:

1. Trespass: The defense of inevitable accident has no place in Trespass cases. This is because the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff and not the defendant.

2. Negligence: On similar lines as in trespass, the defense of inevitable accident has no place in Negligence cases. This is because the burden of proof (of proving negligence of the defendant) lies with the plaintiff.

3. Principle of Strict/Absolute Liability: The defense of ‘inevitable accident’ has no place in cases involving absolute liability. This is due to the fact that strict liability is not affected by variables like recklessness, intent to do the act, knowledge of the act, and so on. In this scenario, liability is predicated only on the risk of substantial injury to others that cannot be avoided even by exercising reasonable care. Furthermore, this doctrine has been applied to activities seen to be excessively harmful or hazardous. This was established in the case of M. C. Mehta v. Union of India[3].

Case Laws on Inevitable Accident

In Stanley v. Powell[4], the defendant and plaintiff went for pheasant shooting. The defendant fired a shot at a pheasant, but the bullet was ricocheted by an oak tree and struck the plaintiff, causing significant injuries. The event was deemed an inevitable accident, and the defendant was held not liable.

In Holmes v. Mather[5], A pair of horses were being led on a public roadway by the defendant’s groom. The horses began running very rapidly as a result of a dog barking. The groom tried everything he could to keep them under control, but he couldn’t. The horses knocked down the plaintiff, who was gravely hurt; it was determined that the accident was unavoidable and that the defendant was not responsible.

In Fardon v. Harcourt-Rivington [6], the defendant left a dog inside a parked automobile. The dog sprang and shattered a window pane. While walking past the automobile, the plaintiff was hurt by a splinter from this glass. It was ruled that the accident was remote and unforeseeable and the defendant was not at fault as there was no negligence on their part. As a result, the defendant was held not liable. Lord Dunedin stated in this case, “People must guard against reasonable probabilities but they are not bound to guard against fantastic possibilities.”

In Brown v. Kendall[7], the facts were that Brown, the plaintiff and Kendall, the defendant both owned dogs. Their dogs started fighting one day. Kendall seized a large stick and began whacking the dogs in order to separate them. Brown kept a safe distance between himself and the violence. Brown walked away from the dogs, toward Kendall’s back, as the hounds moved in his direction. Kendall had not noticed Brown’s movement. Kendall lifted his stick again, and on his backswing, he hit Brown in the eye accidently. Brown was seriously hurt by Kendall. Brown filed a lawsuit against Kendall for battery and assault. It was held that there was no cause of action as it was purely an inevitable accident.[8]

In Assam State Coop., etc. Federation Ltd. v. Smt. Anubha Sinha[9], the buildings belonging to the plaintiff were rented to the defendant. The tenant, who was the defendant, asked that the landlord fix the damaged electric wiring in the area of the building, but the landlord did not take the request seriously and did not do so. An inadvertent fire spread throughout the house due to a short circuit. There wasn’t any negligence on the part of the tenant. In a lawsuit brought by the landlord, it was determined that this was an inevitable accident for which the tenant was not responsible.

In the instance of Nitro-Glycerine case, a firm of carriers, i.e. the defendants, were handed a wooden case to transport from one location to another. The box’s contents were unknown. Because there was some leakage in the box, the defendants brought it to their office to investigate it. After removing the package, they discovered that it was loaded with Nitro-Glycerine, which then exploded, causing damage to the plaintiffs’ office building. The defendant was found to have taken all reasonable safeguards and was not negligent. Moreover, the defendant had no knowledge of the contents of the package. They acted reasonably and were thus, held not liable.

In Shridhar Tiwari v. U.P. State Road Transport Corporation[10], a U.P.S.R.T.C. bus arrived near a village where a cyclist suddenly appeared in front of the bus, and it was raining heavily, so the driver could not stop the bus even after applying the brakes, and as a result, the rear portion of the bus collided with another bus approaching from the opposite direction. It was established that neither of the drivers were negligent, and that they made every effort to avoid the collision. This was deemed to be an inevitable accident. The defendant was found not liable.

In Vedantacharya v. Highways Deptt. of South Arcot[11], the Apex court held that an accident would amount to inevitable accident only when there is no negligence on the part of the defendant. The facts of the instant case were that a bus was passing over a culvert, and unfortunately, the culvert gave way, causing the bus to plunge into the stream. One person traveling on the bus died in this incident. An allegation of negligence was raised against the defendants. The Highway Department pleaded the defense of ‘inevitable accident’ on the ground that there was heavy rainfall during the last 15 days, and there were more than 6 inches of rain a day before the accident and that rainwater had entered the culvert with terrible velocity, causing it to give way.

The Madras High Court, on the basis of Engineer’s Report, which highlighted that the culvert was sound a day before and normal traffic has passed through it, held that it was an inevitable accident. The Supreme Court reversed this decision and held that the Highways Department could not be absolved from their liability by claiming that the accident occurred due to heavy rain and flood as there was failure and negligence on their part to take necessary preventive measures and anticipatory action to strengthen the bridges against heavy rain and floods. Accordingly, the defendants were held liable.[12]

In Hidasi v. Hidasi[13], the court ruled in favour of the defendant in a matter where the defendant used all reasonable care and precautions while driving on a slick road, yet the automobile lost balance, slipped, hit a barrier and injured the plaintiff. The defendant’s claim that the mechanical malfunction of the automobile that caused the slide was beyond his control or foreseeability was accepted by the court.

In the case of Krishna Patra v. Odisha State Electricity Board[14], the difference between negligence and inevitable accident as tort defenses was discussed. The prosecution claimed negligence, whereas the defendant claimed an inevitable accident. The facts of the instant case were that a lady had died after being electrocuted by a naked electrical wire laying on the road. The court ruled that the electrical board could not claim that the accident was unavoidable since they had not taken the necessary precautions and care by periodically checking upon the electrician as an employee. As a result, the defendant company was ordered Rs.50,000 in compensation to be paid to the aggrieved plaintiff.


To conclude, inevitable accident in tort is a general defence which guards the defendant from liability for an unforeseeable incident, where there is no intention or negligence on his or her part, and where there was exercise of prudence, skill and proper care.

FAQs on Inevitable Accident in Tort

What is the difference between inevitable accident and act of God?

The major difference between inevitable accident and act of God is that while the former is caused due to human agency, the latter is caused due to the force of nature. Inevitable accident is the species, and Act of God is the genus.

When can the defense of inevitable accident not be taken?

The defense of inevitable accident cannot be employed in the following cases:
(1) When it is proved that there was negligence on part of the defendant;
(2) When the case is of trespass and the burden of proof lies on the claimant; and
(3) When the defendant is strictly liable for any activity which is hazardous and endangers the safety of persons in general.


  • Inevitable Accident- General Defences in Tort, available at: (last visited on March 17, 2022).
  • Inevitable Accident: A Defense Against Torts, available at: (last visited on March 17, 2022).


[2] Ratanlal, Dhirajlal, The Law of Torts 83 (Lexis-nexis, New Delhi, 26th edition, 2010).

[3] 1987 AIR 1086.

[4] 7 L.T.R. 25.

[5] [(1875) LR 10 Ex 261].

[6] [(1932) 48 TLR 215].

[7] (1859) 6 Cussing 292.

[8]Brown v. Kendall, available at: (last visited on March 17, 2022).

[9] A.I.R. 2001 Guwahati 18.

[10] 1987 ACJ 636.

[11] 1987 ACJ 783.

[12] S.P. Singh, Law of Tort: Including Compensation under the Consumer Protection Act 48 (Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 5th edition, 2010).

[13] 2011 BCSC 583.

[14] 1998 ACJ 155.

Tazeen Ahmed

Tazeen Ahmed is a first-year law student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, inquisitive about Constitutional Law, Family Law, Corporate Law, Human Rights Law, and Criminal Law. She is a proficient writer, skilled in conducting legal research and organizing her articulations on social-legal and political issues. She holds a sound academic record, having scored 93.80 % in AISSE and 95% in both Political Science and English Language in AISSCE. She has held prestigious positions in the Student Council and been adjudged the ‘Student of the Year 2016, Gurgaon’ by UnivQuest. She has formerly served as a legal intern at ubadvocate, where her performance was marked “outstanding” by the team and is an Editor at The Wall of Justice blog. She is also an avid reader, a poet, and a political enthusiast. Above all, she is a dedicated and dynamic soul, ever-prepared to undertake challenging roles in the legal battlefield, and treats constructive criticisms as stepping stones towards progress.