GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF LIABILITY IN TORT

    Edited by: Vaani Garg

    Introduction

    Torts are primarily civil wrongs which lead to civil damages. These are the rights which people have to counter the whole world. In order to impose these rights, the law recognizes definite principles of tort liability. Since the law of tort is not codified, we need to depend on precedents and jurisprudence to understand these principles.

    Principles of Tort Liability:

    Although most principles of tort law originate from English law, Indian courts have modified them to meet local requirements. The following are some important tort law principles:

    1.  Damnum Sine Injuria:

    Damnum sine injuria is a Latin legal maxim which fundamentally means damage without injury. It signifies an actual loss which occurs without the contravention of any legal rights.

    Since the trivial loss of money or money’s worth does not give rise to tort, in order to comprise some tort, real infringement of some rights must take place in the form of legal damage.

    No accountability can occur in such cases. For instance, let’s say a person has a stationery shop on a street for several years. If one of his business rivals opens a bigger stationery shop close by, this person cannot sue him for his plummeting profits. This is because no legal injury occurs to him.

    1. Injuria Sine Damno:

    In contradiction with damnum sine injuria, the principle of injuria sine damno signifies an violation of rights without actual losses. Liability can arise even if no person suffers actual or substantial losses.

    For instance, trespassing of property is a serious infringement of a person’s right to preserve his property. In such cases, the trespasser is liable to pay compensation even if he causes no real damage.

    1. Principle of Vicarious Liability:

    It is an established rule that a person is in charge of his own act of omission and commission but in definite cases a person is liable for the act of others. This is known as vicarious liability. 

    The essential elements of vicarious liability are as follows:

    (i) There must be a relationship of a certain kind.

    (ii) The wrongful act must be related to the relationship in a certain way.

    (iii) The wrongful act must be done within the course of employment.

    Most common example of vicarious liability include:

    Employers liability for the act of his servant during the course of employment: This liability is based on the principle of “respondeat superior” whereby a person is accountable for the act of his subordinate and qui facit per alium facit per se which means he who does an act through another is deemed in law to do it himself.

    The important elements amounting to vicarious liability of a master for the tort of his servant are as follows:

    (i) There should be a master-servant relation.

    (ii) The act of omission or commission should be done within the course of employment.

    Example: If A, driver of B in his course of employment negligently knocks down C while driving a car, B will be accountable for the negligence of his driver A.

    (iii) Principal’s liability for the act of his agent: When an agent performs an act which is countenanced by the principal, the latter becomes liable for such an act of the agent provided the act is done within the course of employment.

    (iv) Liability of partners for each other’s torts: When a partner in the normal course of business of a partnership firm commits a tort, all the other partners are equally  accountable for the tort as the guilty partner.

    1.  Volenti Non-Fit Injuria:

    Occasionally it happens that a person may suffer damages when he consents to some act. This consent may be in the form of knowledge of the possibility of damage and free will to undergo it. A person who understands the risks he may suffer while doing something and still does it cannot seek compensation.

    For example, imagine that a spectator incurred injuries after a cricket ball hit him on his head. The spectator cannot claim compensation from the batsman or any organizer in this case. This is because the law assumes that he was aware of these risks and still went to watch the match.

    Principles of Strict liability and Absolute liability:

    1) STRICT LIABILITY:

    Sometimes a person may be held answerable for doing a wrong even though there had been no negligence on his part or no intention to do such wrong or even if he had taken essential steps to prevent such a wrong from happening. This is known as the principle of strict liability and is based on a no fault theory. The principle of strict liability was first laid down in the landmark case of Rylands v. Fletcher.

    “ Anyone who in the course of ‘non-natural’ use of his land ‘accumulates’ thereon for his own purposes anything likely to do mischief  if it escapes is answerable for all direct damage thereby caused. It imposes strict liability on certain areas of nuisance law.”

    The essential elements of strict liability are as follows:

    (i) There has to be some hazardous thing brought by the defendant on his land.

    (ii) Escape of the hazardous thing from the territory of the defendant.

    (iii) There must be a non-natural use of land.

    Exceptions of Strict liability:

    (i) Escape of the hazardous goods was because of plaintiffs own consent

    (ii) Act of god

    (iii) Act of a stranger

    (iv) Act done by any statutory authority

    (v) Default of the plaintiff

              2) ABSOLUTE LIABILITY:

    Absolute liability is a stricter form of strict liability. It alludes to the no fault theory liability in which the wrongdoer is held absolutely liable for the act of omission or commission without any defences which are available to the rule of strict liability. It is relevant only to those people who are involved in hazardous or inherently dangerous activity whereby they become absolutely liable to full compensation for the harm caused to anyone resulting from the operation of such hazardous activity. The rule of absolute liability was first laid down in M.C Mehta v. Union of India (Oleum gas case).