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Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability notes – CSEET

Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability notes – CSEET

Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability:

ICSI CSEET: The Council of the ICSI has released a notice regarding CSEET on the day of the inauguration of ICSI Golden Jubilee Celebrations on 4th Oct 2017.

The Gazette Notification on the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 has been published on 3rd February 2020 in the Official Gazette of India and the same shall be applicable from the said date of publication.

Now ICSI Published a notice regarding CSEET Test which going to start from 2020 May.

We are now going to discuss the details of CSEET Paper-2 Legal Aptitude and Logical Reasoning – Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability notes.

Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability

Strict or Absolute and Vicarious Liability

Strict or Absolute Liability

In some torts, the defendant is liable even though the harm to the plaintiff occurred without intention or negligence on the part of defendant. In other words, the defendant is held liable without fault. These cases fall under the following categories:

(i)    Liability for Inevitable Accident – Such liability arises in cases where damage is done by the escape of dangerous substances brought or kept by anyone upon his land. Such cases are where a man is made by law an insurer of other against the result of his activities.

(ii)   Liability for Inevitable Mistake – Such cases are where a person interferes with the property or reputation of another.

(iii)   Vicarious Liability for Wrongs committed by others – Responsibility in such cases is imputed by law on the grounds of social policy or expediency. These case involve liability of master for the acts of his servant.

The rule in Rylands v. Flethcer (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 330 is that a man acts at his peril and is the insurer of the safety of his neighbour against accidental harm. Such duty is absolute because it is independent of negligence on the part of the defendant or his servants. It was held in that case that: “If a person brings or accumulates on his land anything which, if it should escape may cause damage to his neighbours, he does so at his own peril. If it does not escape and cause damage he is responsible, however careful he may have been, and whatever precautions he may have taken to prevent damage.”

The facts of this case were as follows: B, a mill owner employed independent contractors, who were apparently competent to construct a reservoir on his land to provide water for his mill. There were old disused mining shafts under the site of the reservoir which the contractors failed to observe because they were filled with earth. The contractors therefore, did not block them. When the water was filled in the reservoir, it bursts through the shafts and flooded the plaintiff’s coal mines on the adjoining land. It was found as a fact that B did not know of the shafts and had not been negligent, though the independent contractors, had been, B was held liable. Blackburn, J., observed; “We think that the true rule of law is that the person, who for his own purposes 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 not do so is, prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.”

Later in the case of Read v. Lyons [(1946) 2 All. E.R. 471 (H.L.)], it has been explained that two conditions are necessary in order to apply the rule in Ryland v. Fletcher, these are:

—    Escape from a place of which the defendant has occupation or over which he has a control to a place which is outside his occupation or control or something likely to do mischief if it escapes; and

—    Non-natural use of Land : The defendant is liable if he makes a non-natural use of land. If either of these conditions is absent, the rule of strict liability will not apply.

Exceptions to the Rule of Strict Liability

The following exceptions to the rule of strict liability have been introduced in course of time, some of them being inherent in the judgment itself in Ryland v. Fletcher:

(i)    Damage due to Natural Use of the Land

In Ryland v. Fletcher water collected in the reservoir in such large quantity, was held to be non- natural use of land. Keeping water for ordinary domestic purpose is ‘natural use’. Things not essentially dangerous which is not unusual for a person to have on his own land, such as water pipe installations in buildings, the working of mines and minerals on land, the lighting of fire in a fire-place of a house, and necessary wiring for supplying electric light, fall under the category of “natural use” of land.

(ii)   Consent of the plaintiff

Where the plaintiff has consented to the accumulation of dangerous thing on the defendant’s land, the liability under the rule in Ryland v. Flethcher does not arise. Such a consent is implied where the source of danger is for the ‘common benefit’ of both the plaintiff and the defendant.

(iii)   Act of Third Party

If the harm has been caused due to the act of a stranger, who is neither defendant’s servant nor agent nor the defendant has any control over him, the defendant will not be liable. Thus, in Box v. Jubh (1879) 4 Ex. D. 76, the overflow from the defendant’s reservoir was caused by blocking of a drain by stranger, the defendant was held not liable. But if the act of the stranger, is or can be foreseen by the defendant and the damage can be prevented, the defendant must, by due care prevent the damage. Failure on his part to avoid such damage will make him liable.

(iv)  Statutory Authority

Sometimes, public bodies storing water, gas, electricity and the like are by statute, exempted from liability so long as they have taken reasonable care.

Thus, in Green v. Chelzea Water Works Co. (1894) 70 L.T. 547 the defendant company had a statutory duty to maintain continuous supply of water. A main belonging to the company burst without any fault on its part as a consequence of which plaintiff’s premises were flooded with water. It was held that the company was not liable as the company was engaged in performing a statutory duty.

(v)   Act of God

If an escape is caused, through natural causes and without human intervention circumstances which no human foresight can provide against and of which human prudence is not bound to recognize the possibility, there is then said to exist the defence of Act of God.

(vi)  Escape due to plaintiff’s own Default

Damage by escape due to the plaintiff’s own default was considered to be good defence in Rylands v. Fletcher itself. Also, if the plaintiff suffers damage by his own intrusion into the defendant’s property, he cannot complain for the damage so caused.

Vicarious Liability


Employer and EmployeeMaster and ServantPrincipal and agentPartners inter se


Normally, the tortfeasor is liable for his tort. But in some cases a person may be held liable for the tort committed by another. A master is vicariously liable for the tort of his servant, principal for the tort of his agent and partners for the tort of a partner. This is known as vicarious liability in tort. The common examples of such a liability are:

(a)   Principal and Agent [Specific authority]

Qui facit per alium facit per se – he who acts through another is acting himself, so that the act of the agent is the act of the principal. When an agent commits a tort in the ordinary course of his duties as an agent, the principal is liable for the same. In Lloyd v. Grace, Smith & Co. (1912) A.C. 716, the managing clerk of a firm of solicitors, while acting in the ordinary course of business committed fraud, against a lady client by fraudulently inducing her to sign documents transferring her property to him. He had done so without the knowledge of his principal who was liable because the fraud was committed in the course of employment.


For the tort committed by a partner in the ordinary course of the business of firm, all the other partners are liable to the same extent as the guilty partner. The liability of the partners is joint and several. In Hamlyn v. Houston & Co. (1903) 1 K.B. 81, one of the two partners bribed the plaintiff’s clerk and induced him to divulge secrets relating to his employer’s business. It was held that both the partners were liable for the tort committed by only one of them.

(b)   Master and Servant [Authority by relation]

A master is liable for the tort committed by his servant while acting in the course of his employment. The servant, of course, is also liable; their liability is joint and several.

In such cases (i) liability of a person is independent of his own wrongful intention or negligence

(ii)   liability is joint as well several (iii) In case of vicarious liability the liability arises because of the relationship between the principal and the wrongdoer but in case of absolute or strict liability the liability arises out of the wrong itself.

A master is liable not only for the acts which have been committed by the servant, but also for acts done by him which are not specifically authorized, in the course of his employment. The basis of the rule has been variously stated: on the maxim Respondeat Superior (Let the principal be liable) or on the maxim Qui facit per alium facit per se (he who does an act through another is deemed to do it himself).

The master is liable even though the servant acted against the express instructions, for the benefit of his master, so long as the servant acted in the course of employment.

(c)   Employer and Independent Contractor

It is to be remembered that an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of his servants committed in the course of their employment, but he is not liable for the torts of those who are his independent contractors.

A servant is a person who is employed by another (the employer) to perform services in connection with the affairs of the employer, and over whom the employer has control in the performance of these services. An independent contractor is one who works for another but who is not controlled by that other in his conduct in the performance of that work. These definitions show that a person is a servant where the employer “retains the control of the actual performance” of the work.

(d)   Where Employer is Liable for the acts of Independent Contractor

The employer is not liable merely because an independent contractor commits a tort in the course of his employment; the employer is liable only if he himself is deemed to have committed a tort. This may happen in one of the following three ways:

(i)    When employer authorizes him to commit a tort.

(ii)   In torts of strict liability.

(iii)   Negligence of independent contractor.

(e)   Where Employer is not Liable for the acts of an Independent Contractor

An employer is not liable for the tort of an independent contractor if he has taken care in the appointment of the contractor. In Philips v. Britania Hygienic Laundry Co. (1923), the owner of lorry was held not liable when a third-party’s vehicle was damaged, in consequence of the negligent repair of his lorry by a garage proprietor. Employers of independent contractors are liable for the “collateral negligence” of their contractors in the course of his employment. Where A employed B to fit casement windows into certain premises. B’s servant negligently put a tool on the still of the window on which he was working at the time. The wind blew the casement open and the tool was knocked off the still on to a passer-by. The employer was held to be liable, because the harm was caused by the work on a highway and duty lies upon the employer to avoid harm.

(f)    Liability for the acts of Servants

An employer is liable whenever his servant commits a tort in the course of his employment. An act is deemed to be done in the course of employment if it is either:

(i)    a wrongful act authorized by the employer, or

(ii)   a wrongful and unauthorized mode of doing some act authorized by the employer.

So for as the first alternative is concerned there is no difficulty in holding the master liable for the tort of his servant. A few examples, however, are necessary to explain the working of the rule in the second. These are as follows:

In Century Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Northern Ireland Road Transport Board (1942) A.C. 509, the director of a petrol lorry, while transferring petrol from the lorry to an underground tank at a garage, struck a match in order to light a cigarette and then threw it, still alight on the floor. An explosion and a fire ensued. The House of Lords held his employers liable for the damage caused, for he did the act in the course of carrying out his task of delivering petrol; it was an unauthorized way of doing what he was employed to do.

Similarly, in Bayley v. Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Rly. Co. (1873) L.R. 7 C.P. 415, erroneously thinking that the plaintiff was in the wrong train, a porter of the defendants forcibly removed him. The defendants were held liable.

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