Doctrine of Absolute Liability (M.C. Mehta vs Union of India)

The Doctrine of Absolute Liability (M.C. Mehta vs UOI) – Law of torts

INTRODUCTION TO ABSOLUTE LIABILITY:

The concept of absolute liability developed in India after the case of M.C Mehta vs Union of India popularly known as Oleum Gas Leak case. This is one of the historic cases in the Indian Judiciary. The case of M.C Mehta is based on the principle of strict liability but no exception was given and the individual was made absolutely liable for his acts.  It is based under this principle that the defendant won’t be allowed to claim any defence if he or she was at fault as it was laid down in Ryland vs Fletcher case. After the Bhopal gas leak case many people lost their lives and are still suffering from some of the lethal diseases through the generation and because of this there was an urgent need to develop a rule under strict liability which had no exceptions available to the defendant to escape from the liability.

The rule laid down by the Honourable Supreme Court of India is a lot more extensive concerning the guidelines set out the House of Lords on account of Ryland vs Fletcher. It was propounded by the Supreme Court that where an endeavour is occupied with a risky or intrinsically dangerous action and if any mischief results to anyone because of the mishap in activity, the industry would be held totally subject to repay to every one of the individuals who are influenced by the mishap.

INCEPTION IN INDIA:

The following changes were made in the existing doctrine of Ryland’s vs Fletcher which led to the following Doctrine of Absolute Liability that averted the defendants from taking up any defence against payment of compensation:

  1. If an industry or enterprise is doing or is getting involved in any unsafe venturous activity, then for any damage arising out of the conduction of that activity, the defendants who is the owner of the industry will have no access to any defence or exception and will be absolutely liable to pay compensation to the aggrieved parties.
  2. The enterprise will also be held liable for all possible damages or consequences resulting from that activity. This will ensure safety to all such industries from all possible damages or consequences resulting from that activity. This will make such industries provide safety equipment to its workers to prevent any mishap. Therefore, this will safeguard the interests of the workers and will give them a refined, sake working environment.
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ESSENTAIL ELEMENTS OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY:

1. Dangerous Thing:

According to the guidelines set out, the risk of break of a thing from a person’s territory will emerge just when the thing which is gathered is something hazardous that is a thing which probably makes harm or injury to others or their property on its get away. In different tort cases which have happened everywhere on the world, the regulation of exacting risk has held an enormous waterway, gas, power, vibrations, sewage, banner post, explosives, toxic vapour, corroded wires etc. are sure things which go under the ambit of dangerous things.

2. Escape:

Anything which has caused harm or misconduct ought to have gotten away or escaped from the area which was under the influence of the respondent to go under the ambit of absolute liability. Like it occurred in the case of Read vs Lyons and Co. where the offended party was functioning as an employee in the respondent’s organization which was occupied with assembling shells. The mishap occurred while she was on her obligation that day inside the organization’s place. It happened when a piece which was being produced there exploded and because of which the employee endured harm. After this event and a suit was filed against the litigant’s organization however the court ultimately let go the respondent and gave the decision that strict liability isn’t material here in this specific case. This was proclaimed by the court on the grounds that the blast that occurred was inside the respondent’s premises and not outside. Also, the idea says that it ought to have gotten away from the hazardous thing like shell here from the limits of the litigant premise which didn’t occur and was absent here. In this way, the carelessness with respect to the litigant couldn’t be proved in the court.

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The element of escape which is an essential element of strict liability may be ignored hete as this restricts the application of this doctrine of absolute liability as often incidents may arise where escape of the dangerous thing like poisonous fumes may not take place outside the industry’s premises but may cause damage to the workers inside. In this case, the workers’ right to get compensation may not be ignored. Therefore, the extent of this principle is to be applied in a wider context ruling out the element of escape.

3. Non- Natural use of Land:

Water gathered on land for household purposes doesn’t add up to non- natural utilization of land however on the other hand if someone is putting away it in huge amounts like in a reservoir as it was the situation in Ryland vs Fletcher then it adds up to non-natural utilization of land. The distinction among normal and non-regular utilization of land by remembering the encompassing social conditions. As the developing of trees and plants on a ground is considered as a normal utilization of land yet on the other hand if one beginnings developing trees which are noxious in nature, at that point it will be considered as non-natural utilization of land. On the off chance that an issue emerges between the litigant and the offended party despite the fact that the respondent is utilizing the land normally, the court won’t hold the respondent liable for his actions.

4. Mischief:

To make the individual liable under this principle, the offended party from the outset needs to show that the respondent had done the non-natural utilization of land and got away or escape from the hazardous thing which he has on his property which brought about the injury further. In the case of Charing Cross Electric Supply Co. Vs Hydraulic Power Co., the litigant was allocated to supply water for modern works. However, he couldn’t keep their mains charged of a base weight that was required which resulted to the blasting of the pipeline at various places. This brought about making substantial harm to the offended party which was proved in the court. The litigants were held responsible regardless of this that they were not to blame. These are the couple of rules where this principle is applied.

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SCOPE OF RULE OF ABSOLUTE LIABILITY:

In the majority of the cases, the rule of strict liability and absolute liability are viewed as exemptions in the law. Also, the individual is held at risk just when he or she is to blame. Be that as it may, in such cases, the individual could be held liable regardless of whether he isn’t to blame. After the disastrous mishap of Oleum Gas Leak case the demonstration of The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 was presented with the principle motivation behind giving quick help to individuals who are survivors of the mishap in which treatment of risky substances is included. The plan behind this demonstration was that the demonstration will make a public risk protection reserve which will in the long run be utilized to compensate the people in question. Dangerous Substance under this demonstration is characterized as any substance which by reason of its properties is obligated to make any harm to the individuals, other living animal, plants, property or to the climate. The term dealing with is portrayed in section 2(c) of the Public Liability Insurance Act,1991 which is a clear and specific expression of the rule of absolute liability laid down in the case of M.C Mehta vs Union of India.

A FEW CASES WHERE ABSOLUTE LIABILITY WAS UPHELD:

1. M.C. Mehta vs Union of India, A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 1086:

The Supreme Court was managing cases of spillage of oleum gas on the 4th and 6th December, 1985 from one of the units of Shriram Foods and Fertilizers Industries, Delhi. Because of this spillage, one advocate and a few others had died. An action was brought against the business through a writ request under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution via a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The appointed authorities for this case wouldn’t follow the strict liability principle set by the English Laws and thought of the precept of absolute liability. The court at that point coordinated the organization who had filed the petitions to document suits against the business in relevant courts inside a range of two months to get compensation to the wronged casualties.

Author: PRISHITA SARAIWALA,
KIIT SCHOOL OF LAW / 2ND YEAR

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