Rule of Absolute Liability and Strict Liability.


This rule was laid down in the year 1868. The principle of strict liability was laid down in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher. This principle states that any person who keeps hazardous substances on his premises will be held responsible if such substance escapes from the premises and causes any damage. In other words, it can be said that if a person brings on his land any dangerous or harmful substance and if such substance is likely to cause some damage if it escapes then such person will be accountable for the damage caused. The person from whose property such thing escaped will be held responsible for the damage caused even if he has not been negligent in keeping such substance. The liability is imposed on such a person because he kept hazardous and dangerous on his premises. There are some conditions which need to be fulfilled to impose liability under the category of strict liability.

In this case, Rylands and Fletcher are living next to each other. Fletcher constructed a water reservoir on his land. He had hired independent contractors to construct the water reservoir. There are some unused shafts on the land which the contractors didn’t notice and thus failed to block them. Due to the negligence on the part of contractors, the shafts that led way to Ryland’s land burst when water was filled in the reservoir. This caused huge damage and loss to Rylands as the water was entered into his coal mine. Thus, Rylands filed a suit against Fletcher. The court held that the person who for his own purpose brings and collects or keeps any substance or thing on his land which likely to do mischief if it escapes and if it escapes and causes damage, is prima facia accountable of its escape”. It was also held that there was no right to enjoy the property by the Fletcher. Fletcher was held liable for the damage caused to the Rylands. The vase as decided in the favor of Rylands.

Essentials of Strict liability –

  1. Dangerous substance – The person will be strictly liable if a dangerous substance escapes from his premises. For the purpose of imposing liability under this principle, the hazardous substance can be defined as any substance which will cause some mischief or harm if it escapes.
  2. Escape – The second condition to make the person strictly liable is that the substance should escape from the premises and should not be within the control of the person after its escapes.
  3. Non – Natural Use- to constitute a strict liability, there should be non-natural use the land. When the term “non- natural” is to be considered, it should be considered that there must be some special use which increases the danger to others.

These three conditions need to be satisfied to constitute a strict liability.

There are some exceptions to this principle –

  1. Plaintiff’s own default
  2. Act of God
  3. Consent of Plaintiff
  4. The act of the third party


This rule is evolved in the case of M.C Mehta v. UOI which was popularly known as the Oleum gas leak case. It is one of the landmark and important judgment which relates to absolute liability.

In this case, some Oleum gas was leaked from the Shriram Food and Fertilizers Industries in Delhi. Due to this leakage, there was a huge loss of life and many people suffered from various injuries. The case was filed by a writ petition under Article 32 of the constitution of India by the way of PIL. It was thought that there was a need to develop new rule as under strict liability there were some exceptions available for the defendant from they can easily set free from their liability. Therefore the new rule of absolute liability was introduced.

This rule states that if any person or any industry is engaged in any hazardous or dangerous substance or activity and if any harm occurs while carrying out such activity then the person will be held liable for the harm or damage caused. Then the person will be absolutely liable for the damage caused to the general public. This principle was laid down on the basis of the idea that the enterprise who is earning profits should also be made liable for the damage caused by their fault. This principle was also applied in the case of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The legislature passed the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 to ensure that victims will get quick and speedy relief.

Also Read – Malice In Law and Malice In Fact

Vaishali Phull

Content Writer, Law Corner, Student of BBA LLB, 3rd Year, Sharda University

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