Concept of Liability under Law of Torts

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An obligation that legally binds an individual for settling a wrongful act they may have committed. One who is bound in law and justice to do something which may be enforced by action. This liability under Law of Torts may arise from contracts either express or implied or in consequence of torts committed. The liabilities of one man are not in general transferred to his representatives further than to reach the estate in his hands.

For example, A master is liable for the acts of his servant while in his employ, performed in the usual course of his business, upon the presumption[1] that they have been authorized by him; but he is responsible only in a civil point of view and not criminally, unless the acts have been actually authorized by him. No fault liability: – Legal responsibility for an injury that can be imposed on the wrongdoer without proof of carelessness or fault.

Vicarious Liability under Law of Torts

Vicarious liability under Law of Torts refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In the field of Torts a person is liable for his own acts only.

(1) Liability of the principal for the tort of his agent.

(2) Liability of partners of each other’s tort.

(3) Liability of the master for the tort of his servant.

(4) Liability of the State or Liability of the Administration.

Liability of the principal for the tort of his agent:

There is a person who gives legal authority to another to act on his/her behalf in a business relationship. Agent is a person how have the legal authority to act when dealing with the third person in a business transaction.

‘Qui facit per se alium facit per se’, Act of an agent is the act of principle where one person authorized another to commit a tort. The liability for that will not only of the person who has committed but also who authorized it.

The principle is liable vicariously because of the principle agent relationship between them. They are considered as joint tortfeaser. In such a case the plaintiff has a choice either to sue the principle or agent, or both.

Liability of the master for the tort of his servant: 

The doctrine of liability of a master  under Law of Torts for the act of his servant is based on maxim “Respondent Superior”. (Let the principle be liable) this put the master in the same position as if he had done the act himself.

There are two essential for the liability of master –

  • Tort was committed by the servant.
  • The servant committed the tort course of his employment.

In general – The principle can only be had liable for only the agent act when all the four conditions are made.

  • Agent was employed to perform that particular type of act.
  • Agent act was inspired by an intent of principle.
  • Agent method could have been anticipated by the principle.
  • Agent act occurred at an authorized placed and during the authorized time of employment.

Mistake / Fraud of the Servant –

  • Where servant having a lawful authority to do some act on behalf of his master makes an excessive use of authority, causing loss to the plaintiff the master servant will be liable depends on the nature of act.
  • Servant has an implied authority to protect the property of his master.

Partner’s in a Partnership Firm

Relationship as between the partner as that of principle and agent. For a tort committed by any partner in ordinary course of business of a firm all other partners are liable to the same extent as that of guilty party.

Lloyd versus Grace Smith and Company[2]:-

In this case a lady (plaintiff) sells her property to a company, the lady just left to sign few documents. There after company send his agent to get the sign of plaintiff (lady) on property paper. The agent fraudulently made a gift deed of plaintiff property and took sign on that gift deed. Than lady file Suit against company. Here company will be vicariously held liable for the wrongful act of their Agent.

Strict Liability under Law of Torts

It states that any person who keeps hazardous substance on his premises will be held responsible if such substance escape the premises and cause any damage. The rule of Strict Liability under Law of Torts has evolved from the rule laid down in Ryland’s v Fletcher (1868).

Ryland’s v Fletcher (1868)

Facts of the case there is a land (mill) of “defendant” and he want to construct a reservoir upon his land so, he employed some independent contractors to construct a reservoir[3] on his land. In the course of construction of reservoir the contractor dig up the whole land and the contractor found a pipe line passing through the land to the coal mine (plaintiff). Thus the contractor construct the reservoir and due to the heavy weight the pipe burst and thus this cause a loss to the coal mine of plaintiff.

Thereafter coal mine owner (plaintiff) files a civil suit against defendant. here in this case defendant took the defense that he doesn’t do rather it was a part of wrongful act of independent contractor, here plaintiff took the plea that he was not claiming damages under vicarious liabilities rather calming under the strict liability concept so the court strictly made liable the defendant for the act of independent contractor.

Exceptions to Strict Liability under Law of Torts

1. Plaintiff’s own fault

2. Act of God

3. Consent of Plaintiff

4. Act of third party

5. Statutory authority

Plaintiff’s own fault

If the damage is caused by the act or default of the claimant himself (plaintiff) he has no remedy. Ponting v Noakes (1849) the claimant’s horse reached over the defendant’s boundary, nibbled some poisonous tree there and died accordingly and it was held that the claimant could recover nothing, for the damage was due to the horse’s own intrusion.

Act of God

When an event occur which the defendant has no control over its occurrence and damage is caused by cause of nature.

Act of god is a kind of inevitable accident with the difference from other inevitable accident that in the case of Act of God resulting loss arises out of working of Natural resources for eg- heavy rainfall, tides or storm.

Consent of Plaintiff

Where the claimant has expressly or impliedly consented for the danger and there has been no negligence on the part of the defendant, the defendant is not liable.

Act of third party

If the harm has been caused due to the act of a stranger, who is neither the defendant’s servant nor the defendant has any control over him, the defendant will not be liable under this rule.

Statutory authority

An act done under the authority of an act it is a complete defense and agreed party has no remedy accept for claiming the compensation has may have been provided by state.

Illustration – If a railway line is constructed there may be interference between private lands. (Noise, smoke, vibration). No action will be lie for the interference of land or incidental harm except for the payment of such expectation which the act itself may be provided.

Absolute liability under Law of Torts

Strict liability without exceptions becomes Absolute Liability. The principle of Absolute[4] Liability was used in India in case of M.C. Mehta. The burden of proof rests solely on the defendant.

M.C Mehta v. Union of India (1987)

In the above case there was a U.S. Firm and the firm produces oleum gas in India, and one day due to the default of third part, because the third party forget to on the safety measure buttons then oleum gas leakage this leakage cause damage in India and also cause death of the peoples. Thereafter plaintiff file suit against the U.S. firm, but the U.S firm took the plea under strict liability rule that the damage was caused by the third party default. And the U.S firm exempted to give the compensations to the victims.

But here the victims will left without remedy if no compensation will be given to them, so with the passage of time court evolved a concept of “Absolute Liability” thus the court made absolutely liable the U.S firm to provide the damages to the victims and thus the exception of strict liability not applied.


The concept of vicarious liability is a very complex issue, as it is torn between trying to protect the right of the victim to gain sufficient compensation and trying to protect the employer from being overburdened by their employee. Although it goes against the principle that wrongdoers should pay for their own acts, the doctrine of vicarious liability seems appropriate as it does serve a useful purpose; it contributes to the maintenance of safety standards and it enables the victims of negligence [5]by employees to be reasonably certain that someone will be in a position to pay them compensation.

Vicarious liability is where one person is held liable for the torts of another, even though that person did not commit the act itself. It is therefore a form of strict liability (in that the defendant is not at fault). The most common form of vicarious liability is when employers are held liable for the torts of their employees that are committed during the course of employment. The issue of vicarious liability can be seen to be unjust in that someone who is not at fault can be held liable.

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[1] An idea that is taken to be true on the basis of probability.

[2] [1912] AC 716, [1912] UKHL 1

[3] A large natural or artificial lake used as a source of water supply.

[4] Not qualified

[5]Failure to take proper care over something.

Author Details: Shivam Gupta

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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