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Strict Liability Argumentative

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• A person may be liable for some harm even though he is not negligent in causing the same or does not intentionally cause it or is careful or has taken steps to prevent the same.

• e.g., The defendant is liable to the neighbor for emission of harmful gases with offensive smell from his big ore melting furnace, or constructing a dam which diverted water from its natural channel on the land of the neighbor. Such liability is called Strict Liability.


Both Rylands and Fletcher were neighbours.
Rylands owned a mill for whose energy requirement he constructed a water reservoir on his land. He gave this work to independent contractor and engineers. Due to the negligence of the private contractor, the shafts that led the way to Fletcher’s mine were broken which led the water into the mine, causing heavy loss to him. Fletcher sued Rylands.



• The court of Exchequer dismissed the claim stating that there is no valid case.

• The court of Exchequer chamber again overruled the judgment in the favor of the Plaintiff and the judgment was announced by Blackburn J. on the behalf of all the six judges and gave the rule of strict liability.“The person who, for his own purpose , brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in this peril ; and if he does not do so is prima facie answerable for all damage which is the natural consequence of it’s escape”.

• Rylands was not satisfied with this decision and appealed in the House of lords and the appeal was again overruled by Lord Crain’s, he agreed to the decision of Blackburn J, and added a condition that the land from which escape has occurred must have been used in a NON-NATURAL, inappropriate or unusual manner.


This case laid the principle of absolute liability.
It stated that an occupier of land who brings onto it anything likely to do damage if it escapes, and keeps that thing on the land, will be liable for any damage caused by an escape. This rule laid the theory of unnatural use of land and creation of risk. The rule hence created was further used in few cases-

a.Cambridge Water Co. Ltd v. Eastern Counties Leather Plc. b.Transco plc v. Stockport MBC


A more stringent rule of strict liability than the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher was laid by the Supreme Court in the recent case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of INDIA. The court held that the rule of Rylands v. Fletcher which evolved in 19th century did not fully meet the needs of modern industrial society with highly developed scientific knowledge and technology were hazardous or inherently dangerous industries were necessary to be carried out on as a part of the development programme and that it was necessary to lay down a new rule not yet recognised by the English law, to adequately deal with the problems arising in a highly industrialised economy.


Rylands vs. Fletcher paved the way for a new way of deciding cases related to owner’s liability. There was a requirement to have a law that could increase the duty of the owner to take care. The world is progressing very fast and disputes regarding duty of care are increasing rapidly, so there was a need to put up a law which could sort these problems. This was done by this case. Rule of strict liability was not followed in India but it was modified to Absolute liability which is being used now-a-days.

1.Some Inherently dangerous thing must have been bought by the person oh his land.

2. That thing must ESCAPE from the land.

3. It must be a NON-NATURAL use of land.


• Act of god is a direct , sudden, irresistible , violent act of nature as could not by any amount of foresight have been foreseen or, if foreseen, could not by any amount of human care and skill have been resisted.

• Example: Storm, Lightning, Tempest, Extraordinary fall or rain, extraordinary high tide and extra ordinary severe frost. ACT OF 3RD PARTY

If the defendant is taking reasonable care and is maintain it with the utmost care and if the escape of the dangerous substance, is due to a wrongful act of Third party/Stranger then the rule does not apply.

• The Plaintiff cannot claim for damages where the act is done by a stranger, i.e., one who is neither defendant’s servant nor the defendant has any control over him.

• In Box v Jubb , the reservoir was overflowed because a third party supplied a huge amount of water that drained down and damaged the plaintiff.


Plaintiff’s own fault is another exception to the rule of Rylands v Fletcher, if the damage has been done by the act of the plaintiff himself, then the rule does not hold.

• The plaintiff cannot claim for the damages for his own wrongful act.

• In Ponting v Noakes , The plaintiff’s horse nibbled some poisonous tree by crossing the defendant’s boundary and died. It was held that the defendant is not liable, as it was horse’s own fault by intruding into the defendant’s land and, alternatively there, was no escape of the dangerous substance.


• If the act is done under the state’s authority then the defendant cannot be held liable.

• No action will lie against the act which has been authorized by the legislature, if it is done without negligence.

• In Green v Chelsea waterworks co , a main belonging to the waterworks company , authorized by the Parliament, there was no negligence on the part of the company. A water main burst causing damage to plaintiff’s land. It was held that the waterworks company was in a statutory obligation to give high pressure water supply. They were not held liable.


• If the plaintiff has directly or impliedly consented to the presence of the source of danger and there has been no negligence on the part of the defendant, the defendant is not liable.

• The plaintiff cannot claim for damages if the plaintiff has consented to the presence of the dangerous thing.

• A manufactured explosives on his land, B got some commission from A, Explosion in the Factory B got hurt but cannot claim damages.


2. e-lawresources.com
3. Jurisprudence – Dr. S.R.Myneni.

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