This case analysis is writte by Akshat Mehta, a student of the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. In this case, he has tried to show how the concept of ‘Strict Liability’ is interpreted in certain conditions depending upon the place and circumstances.
Any person could not be made strictly liable if his/her act is in the direction of ‘Collective paramount Interest’ or is benefiting the public at large and is the interest of the public policy.
(1974) 1 I.A. 364 (P.C.)
Sir R.P. Collier, Sir J.W. Colvile, Sir L Peel and Sir B. Peacock
3 July 1874
Calcutta High Court
Strict Liability and Exception of ‘Vis Major/Act of God’
Facts of the Case
The tanks were used to store water for the purposes of irrigation and other agricultural related activities. The district was situated in the hilly areas and tanks were used for storing huge quantity of water since time immemorial and also these are the absolute necessity for the purpose of cultivation also such practice was followed throughout India and particularly in those hilly districts and in Zamindari of Karvetinagaram as it was lawful and governed by custom and usage. Water stored in the tanks is the primary and only source of living and farming for the ryots living in those areas.
On one such instance bulky water stored in those tanks busted and escaped thereby damaging the appellant property and destroying three bridges of the railway. Railway Company brought the suit against the defendant for the recovery of damages suffered by the company.
The defendant (Zamindar) contended that the injuries caused was not due to his negligence but it is an effect ‘Vis Major/Act of God’ and he should be absolved from all the liabilities aroused due to the act of God.
Issues Before the Court
1. Whether the defendant acted negligently in procuring and managing the water in the tanks or it comes under ‘Vis major/Act of God’?
2. Whether the defendant (Zamindar) is liable to pay any sought of compensation to the plaintiff’s sustained by them due to the bursting of the tanks?
Ratio of the Court
The court read the present case in consonance with Vaughan v. Taff Vale Railway Company, Jones v. The Festiniog Railway Company, Rylands v. Fletcher and Withers v. The North Kent Railway Company.
High Court had given its reasoning on the basis of two grounds:
1. The water stored in the tanks is used by all the ryots of the area. Hence it is in the benefit of the society and catering to the needs of ‘Paramount Collective Interest’. In this regard, the court stated that “The existence of these tanks is absolutely necessary, not only for the beneficial enjoyment of the defendant’s land, but for the sustenance of thousands of his ryots.” Therefore it is inequitable if liability is imposed on the owner of the land where water tanks were situated; rather greater obligation could be created to take care of any escape of such things which could potentially harm the neighbors.
2. Particularly in regards to the Indian conditions the water is required to be stored in larger quantities. Hence, it falls under the necessity rather and the exception to the doctrine of ‘Strict Liability’ optimistically applies here. Also, the condition of non-natural use of land varies from place to place and situation to situation.
Decision of the Court
Hence Court held that here, in this case, the exception to the rule of ‘Strict Liability’ applies and the defendant couldn’t be directed to pay the compensation to the appellants because he had taken all reasonable precautions while storing water in the tanks. The High Court dismissed the appeal of the appellants i.e. Railway Company.
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