M.P. Electricity Board v. Shail Kumar

This case is critically analyzed by Akshat Mehta, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. In this case, he tried to highlight where the exception of strict liability also fails and parties are liable so as in absolute liability. 

INTRODUCTION

An exception of “Act of a Stranger” is available or not in the case of ‘Strict Liability’ of electricity board in an event of electrocution because of clandestine pilferage committed by a stranger.

Equivalent Citation

AIR 2002 SC 551

Bench

Justice K. Thomas and Justice S. Phukan 

Decided On

11 January 2002

Court

Supreme Court of India

Relevant Laws

Strict Liability Rule and the exception of ‘act of a stranger’ and Section 19 of the Electricity Act, 1910

Fact of the Case

A workman by the name Joginder Singh, aged 37 was riding to his home in the night from factory through bicycle on August 23, 1997. There was heavy rain in that area at that time due to which most parts of the road were covered with water. There was a live electric wire lying on the road, which was used by Hari Gaikwad (3rd Respondent), who was siphoning the energy for his private house secretly without the notice of the electricity board. The cyclist didn’t notice the live wire lying on the road which was partially inundated with water and as his cycle got over to the water he got twisted and snatched and instantaneously electrocuted. He died with few minutes of the deadly shock. His widow wife and minor son claimed for the sum of Rs. 6.39 Lakhs, but the trial court assessed the compensation amounted to Rs. 4.34 Lakhs to the claimants. 

Issues Presented Before the Court

1)     Whether the electricity board is strictly liable or is negligently liable under the Law of Torts?

2)     If yes, can it take the exception of ‘Act of a stranger’ to abscond from the liability?

3)     Whether the compensation awarded is in consonance with the damages suffered or not?

Ratio of the Court

The Honorable Court read this case with the 18th-century case of ‘Rylands v. Fletcher’ in which the Strict Liability rule was propounded by Lord Blackburn J., as per which “the person who, for his own purpose, brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes must keep it at his peril, and if he does so he is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.”

Same happened in this case and J. Thomas observed that even after taking all necessary precautionary measures if any hazardous thing is capable to take human life than the person is strictly liable. He also distinguished Strict Liability from the Negligence in a manner that as per the concept of ‘Negligence’ in tort law, a person could avoid the foreseeable harm by taking the precautionary or preventive measures but in the case of ‘Strict Liability’, a person is strictly liable even if he had already taken preventive measures to avoid foreseeable harm. There are seven exceptions available to the rule of ‘Strict liability’ and one of which is ‘Act of a stranger/Act of a third party’. 

The Court also held that in the present case the board also seemed taking the exception of ‘Act of a stranger’ in order to abscond from its liability but this exception doesn’t apply here because of two reasons:

1)     In the present scenario the exception doesn’t hold water because actions of the third party could be possibly anticipated from the defendants and also in either way consequences could also have been prevented by the board if reasonable care could be taken with due diligence. 

2)     As long as the power transmitted in the wires is potentially dangerous and also could take the life of any person it adds on to the duty of the board and management to take all safety measures to prevent any escape from such potentially harmful transmission wires.

The Court also used similar reasoning laid down in cases such as Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India, Gujarat State Rod Transport Corporation v. Ramanbhai Prabhatbhain,  Kaushnuma Begum v. New India Assurance Co. Ltd. and M.C Mehta v. Union of India (1987) while granting the decision.

Decision of the Court

The Court in this directed the electricity board to pay the compensation to the widowed wife and minor son of the deceased person and also held that the electricity board cannot escape from the liability and it doesn’t create any difference that whether the 3rd respondent could interfered or not, the potentially dangerous power in the electricity cables makes the board Strictly liable and no defense prevails.

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