Generally a man is held liable for his negligence which result into harm or violation of rights of other. But there are certain exceptions to the general principle of liability. Such cases are those where a person is held liable for his act even though it did not do it intentionally or negligently. In other words, he is held liable irrespective of negligence or carefulness. These cases are covered under the rule of strict liability which is also known as absolute liability.

In case covered under strict liability the wrong arise from the breach of an absolute duty and absolute duty may be defined as a ‘duty which renders a man live without any fault of his and irrespective of any consideration of intention or negligence on his part’. The word strict or absolute denotes that it is not necessary for the injured party to prove any intention or negligence on the part of the wrongdoer and no amount of care and caution proved by the latter would absolve him from liability. The principle of absolute liability have been enunciated by Blackburn, J., of the Exchequer court and affirmed by the House of Lords in “Rylands vs Fletcher (1868) 3HL 330” thus “the person who for its own purpose bring on his land and collect and keep there anything likely to do mischief; if it escape, must keep it in and his peril and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damages which is natural consequences of its escape”.

Blackurn j., moulded the different scattered legal rules for remedies into a board and comprehensive principle which combined restatement, remoulding and making of new law he collects several case of liability without fault which in Dean Wigmore’s words “wandered about, unhosted and unshephered etc. in the pathless field of jurisprudence”. The doctrine of strict liability is applicable in case involving wild animal, dangerous premises or substances, electricity, water, fire explosives etc. which are capable of escape. The object of strict liability is not to prevent person from undertaking hazardous and adventurous activities. The law only expect a person to do such a act at his own peril, and keep himself ready to compensate the person wronged if any injury is caused to him by the wrongful act.

Salmond has group case of strict liability under the following three heads;

1) Mistake of law
2) Mistake of fact
3) Inevitable accident

Mistake of Law-

An act done under the mistake of law is not said to be an intentional act because the doer of it does not know that what he is doing is prohibited by law. If a person has committed a wrong under mistake of law, the law will not hear him say that he had no guilty mind and that but for his ignorance of law, he would have not done it. Ignorance of law is no excuse in almost all the legal system this is expressed in the legal maxim, ignorantia juris meminem excusat. Therefore it is obvious that in such case the principle of absolute or strict liability applies because of the presumption that everyone must know the law relating to his act or conduct. This principle however does not apply in case of ignorance of foreign law.

Mistake of Fact

It is generally said that mistake of fact is a good defence in law of crimes. However, in English and Indian law mistake of fact is not a defence in law of tort, i.e., civil wrong. He who interferes with the right of another shall not be allowed to say that he believed in good faith and on reasonable ground in the existence of some circumstances which justify his act.

In R. V/s. Prince (1875)2 CCR 154 a person who abducted a girl under the legal age of consent was held criminally liable and the plea of inevitable mistake as to her age failed as a defence. This is so because the act of taking the girl was itself wrongful.

However, if the intention is lawful, mistake of fact is a valid defence in criminal law. For instance, if A intending to kill B kills C mistaking him to be B. A has no defence, but if A, who is out hunting in a forest shoot at a bush thinking that a tiger was lurking inside and the bullet hit and kill B, he will be exempted from criminal liability due to mistake of fact. This mistake, in order to qualify for exemption from criminal criminal liability should fulfill two condition namely 1) It should be reasonable and 2) It should be mistake of fact and not of law.

A few more illustrative case may be cited to explain the absolute liability involved in acts done under mistake of fact. If a person trespasses upon another man’s land. It is no defence for him to say that he believed in good faith and on reasonable grounds to be his own. (” Baslley V/s. Clarkson (1682) 2 Liv 537″) Likewise, if a person meddles with another person’s goods in absolute innocence and under an inevitable mistake of fact he shall nonetheless be liable for all the loss incurred by the true owner. (“Hollins V/s. Fowler, (1874) 7 HL 757.”)

Inevitable Accident

Inevitable accident is commonly recognised as a ground of exemption from liability both civil and criminal law.

Accident may either be culpable or inevitable. it is culpable when caused due to negligence but inevitable when the avoidance of it would have required a degree of their existing the standard demanded by law. In other words, an inevitable accident is that which could not possibly be prevented by the exercise of ordinary care, caution and skill. That is, it must be physically unavoidable nature. The case of (“Stanley Vs power (1891) 1 QB 86”) is a leading decision on inevitable accident as a defence. In this case the defendant while firing at a pheasant accident and without negligence shot the plaintiff with the pellet from his gun, it was held that he had a good defence. In a subsequent case of (“Ryan V/s. Young (1938) ALL ER 522”) the sudden death of the driver of a motor vehicle due to heart failure as a result of which an accident was caused, was held to be inevitable accident and defendant were not held liable.

Author: vivek khandelwal,
Amity University Rajasthan, 2nd Year/ BBA.LL.B(Hons.)

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