This article on ‘Principles of Liability Under Tort: All You Should Know‘ was written by Ashok Kumar Chaudhary, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The word “tort” originates from the Latin word “tortum,” meaning something twisted or crooked. Salmond’s theory of torts defines a tort as a civil wrong for which common law is the only available remedy. A tort is distinguished from a breach of contract or trust and refers to a situation where a party’s negligent act causes harm or injury to another person. Such an act is referred to as a tort. This article attempts to analyse various principles of liability along with various types of liabilities under the tort law.
THEORIES OF LAW OF TORT AND TORTS
Mainly there are two theories which follow one is given by Winfield who gave the Law of Tort and the other is the Law of Torts given by Salmond:
- According to Winfield’s theory of the Law of Tort, any unjust harm inflicted by an individual constitutes a tort, and there is no excuse for such wrongful behaviour. Winfield asserts that if an individual’s act or omission leads to damages another person suffers, that person is responsible for compensation. In Winfield’s view, the person who suffered the harm must be compensated if an injury is caused by someone. Therefore, Winfield’s theory of torts encompasses all types of wrongs. Winfield’s theory maintains that tort law is a constantly evolving field that continues to grow, and the number of acts or omissions that could constitute a tort cannot be entirely specified. As society changes and expands, the concept of wrongful behaviour also expands. This allows the courts to create new torts and hold defendants liable, regardless of any defects in the plaintiff’s pleading. In the case of MC Mehta vs UOI, the court emphasized the need to develop new principles and norms to effectively address the unique problems in a highly industrialized economy. This theory is supported by Pollock and the courts.
- Salmond’s theory of the law of torts argues that there is a limited number of torts. Anything outside of those torts is not considered a tort, absolving the wrongdoer of any liability. This theory is also known as the pigeonhole theory, which proposes that the law of torts consists of a nested set of pigeonholes, each containing a labelled tort. “If the defendant’s action does not fit into any of these categories, then they may not be held liable for a tort.” However, in the case of Lala Punnalal vs Kasthurichand Ramaji, the Hon’ble Court pointed out that these classifications of torts are exhaustive and should not be seen as a limit on the development of new classes of torts arising from new invasions of rights. On the other hand, Winfield’s theory of tort law argues that the law of torts is continuously expanding, as the Hon’ble Court stated in the landmark case of Donoghue vs Stevenson. From this perspective, confining the law of torts to a set of pigeonholes is untenable.
PRINCIPLES OF LIABILITY
In a legal case, the party that initiates the lawsuit is called the plaintiff, while the person against whom the case is filed is called the defendant. If the plaintiff has suffered harm, they are entitled to compensation in the form of damages, which can be monetary or non- monetary. To claim damages, there must be a breach of duty, which is one party’s responsibility towards another in a contract or agreement. Even if the breach was unintentional, negligence and carelessness are still taken into account. Therefore, if someone suffers harm due to another’s actions, they can file a claim for damages.
Tort law allows individuals to receive damages for any harm they have suffered, regardless of whether there was a contractual relationship between the parties. This means that if someone is harmed by another person’s actions, they may be able to receive compensation through a tort claim.
The question is whether it should be called the “law of tort” or “law of torts”. The difference is that the “law of torts” means compensation is given for any harm caused, regardless of intent, while the “law of tort” is more general.
PRINCIPLE OF TORT LIABILITY
- DAMNUM SINE INJURIA: According to this Latin maxim, which means suffering an injury without damage, in simple terms, it means there must be an actual loss that occurs without the infringement of any legal right because the failure of money or amounts of money worth does not amount to any tort. For example, “Amit set up a rival school in front of Neha’s school with low fees, which resulted in many students being admitted to Amit’s school due to the low fees. Now, Neha is facing a huge financial loss. This act of Amit is not actionable in the law of tort. He did not violate any legal right of Neha, but she has sustained a financial loss.”
- INJURIA SINE DAMNO: It’s a Latin maxim that means infringement of rights without actual loss. Liabilities can arise even if no person is suffering real or substantial losses. Losses can be in the form of health or monetary loss. If there is an infringement of legal rights, then there is a remedy available against the wrongdoer. In the case of Ashby vs White (1703), the defendant was stopped from performing his legal right, which was the right to vote. The defendant was prevented from voting, but the candidate he wanted to vote for won and was elected, and he did not suffer any harm. However, the court held that although the plaintiff did not sustain any actual loss, his legal right to vote was violated for which he was granted a remedy.
LIABILITY CAN BE CLASSIFIED INTO DIFFERENT TYPES
In tort law, the general rule is that a person is liable for their wrongful acts, and not for the actions of others. however, there are situations where liabilities for another person’s actions may arise.
- Strict Liability: The rule of strict liability states that if a business or commercial activity causes harm to someone, they are responsible for compensating the injured party. This liability arises even if the company took all necessary precautions to prevent damages. In the landmark case of Rylands v Fletcher, the defendant constructed a reservoir through an independent contractor. However, there were some old, unblocked shafts under the reservoir, and when water was filled in, it burst through the shafts and flooded the plaintiff’s coal mines. Despite the defendant’s lack of knowledge about the shafts and absence of negligence, they were held liable under the rule. This is also known as “no-fault liability,” where the defendant is held responsible for damages even if they were not negligent and did not cause intentional harm.
- Absolute Liability: The rule of absolute liability imposes strict liability on a person without any defences available to them, even if they can prove that the damages were natural and beyond their control. The landmark case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987), also known as the Oleum Gas Leak case, involved a major gas leak in one of the Shriram Food and Fertiliser Industries’ units that caused significant harm to workers and people living nearby.
- Vicarious liability: For vicarious liability to arise, there should be a legal relationship between the defendant and the third party involved. The law must be able to attribute and extend liabilities to the third party it also arises in the course of employment in a master-servant relationship, employee and employer. Generally, the person is responsible for his act or omission but in some cases, like these, a person is also liable for the actions of others this is known as vicarious liability. For example, the law of partnership recognizes that the partner is the agent of each other so now one partner is also can be liable for the default of the other partner.
There are different principles of liability in tort law, including strict liability, absolute liability, and vicarious liability. Each principle applies in specific situations and determines the extent of liability for a party. In India, the principles of liability are recognized under the Indian Penal Code, the Motor Vehicles Act, and other relevant laws. The courts in India have also developed several precedents and judgments that have shaped the tort law system in the country. It is essential to understand the different principles of liability and relevant laws in India to seek legal remedies in case of harm or loss due to the actions of others.
List of references:
- Concept of Liability under Law of Torts, Law Bhoomi, 5 April 2020, available at: https://lawbhoomi.com/concept-of-liability/
- Principles of Tort Liability, 10 March 2020, available at: https://www.ecri.org/search-results/member-preview/hrc/pages/lawreg3
- Principles of Liability in Torts, Aishwarya Sandeep, available at: https://aishwaryasandeep.com/2022/08/23/principles-of-liability-in-torts/