June 18, 2021

Top 5 Important Cases to Understand the Basics of Torts

Law of Torts

Introduction

The word ‘Tort’ is of French origin and is derived from the Latin word ‘tortum’ which means to twist and implies a twisted conduct. The word tort is also similar to a Sanskrit word ‘jimha’ which means ‘crooked’. ‘Jimha’ was used in the ancient Hindu Law Text which meant a ‘tortious or fraudulent conduct.’ Tort is a civil wrongful act, committed against a person or a property, either intentional or negligent.

According to Prof. Winfield, “Tortious liability arises from the breach of a duty primarily fixed by law which results in an infringement of private legal right of another end, for which, civil action for unliquidated damages, injunction, specific restitution of property or even self-help, as the case may be, can be maintained.”

If a tort occurs, the law permits the injured party to seek to recover damages equal to the value of the injury. Damages are awarded in an effort to make the injured party whole again. Money is the common form of damages which is used to compensate the injury caused. Though money cannot always make the injured party whole again, nevertheless it can assist in rectifying many things. The concept of reasonable care underlies tort law. The court tries to compensate a victim for harm suffered from another person who did not take reasonable care.

Let us take an example. A drives his car carelessly because of which it mounts the pavement and hits B, a pedestrian, causing B personal injuries. The act is A driving the vehicle. The act has caused damage to B the damage was caused due to carelessness of A. Therefore A will be liable for tort and B will be able to recover damages.

 

Essential of Torts

1. There must be a wrongful act or omission on the part of person

2. That wrongful act or omission must result in legal damage to another

3. The wrongful act or omission must be of such a nature as to give rise to a legal remedy.

Now, to further delve into some of the ingredients of Torts let us look into some of the important judgments under Tort Law.

 

Municipal Corporation Delhi vs. Subhagwanti, 1966

 

The case of Municipal Corporation Delhi vs. Subhagwanti, 1966 (AIR 1966 SC 1750)[1] deals with one of the most important aspects of Torts that is ‘negligence’. Negligence signifies failure to exercise a particular standard of care which the doer as a reasonable man should have exercised in particular situation or circumstance.

In this case, a clock tower collapsed in Chandni Chowk, Delhi causing death of many people. The structure was 80 years old whereas its normal life was to be 40-45 years. The municipal corporation of Delhi was responsible for the structure and therefore was held liable. The doctrine res ipsa loquitur (things speak for itself) was applied to this case as according to the facts of the case the Municipal Corporation was solely responsible for the ownership and control of the clock tower and owned the duty of care to the deceased. Thus the corporation was held liable for tort due to negligence.

 

Ashby vs. White, 1703

The case Ashby vs. White, 1703 2 Lord Raym 933[2], brings light on the legal maxim ‘injuria sine damno.’ There are also cases where a conduct is actionable even though no damage has been caused. In this leading case, the defendant, a returning officer, wrongfully refused to register a duly tendered vote of the plaintiff who was a qualified voter. The candidate for whom the vote was tendered was elected and hence no loss was suffered by the rejection of the plaintiff’s vote.

The plaintiff bought an action for damages against the defendant. The court awarded him 5 Euros on the ground that the violation of the plaintiff’s legal right for which he must have a remedy and was actionable without proof of pecuniary damage. The Chief Justice contended that the plaintiff ought to be allowed to recover, because the right to vote is a common law right and the obstruction to cause that right must give rise to a cause of action.

The idea of injuria sine damno is also commonly used in the tort of trespass. For e.g. if A walks across B’s land without B’s permission then A will commit the tort of trespass to land, even though he causes no damage to the land.

Bhim Singh vs. State of Jammu & Kashmir, 1985

The case of Bhim Singh vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir, 1985 (AIR 1986 SC 494)[3] deals with another important aspect under Tort law which is ‘false imprisonment’ (intentional confinement, of another person within fixed boundaries). When it is shown that a person is arrested with mischievous and malicious intent the court has the authority to monetarily compensate the victim.

According to the facts of the case, Mr. Bhim Singh an MLA of Jammu and Kashmir was arrested and detained by the police and was deliberately prevented from attending the sessions of the legislative assembly. He was not produced before the magistrate even after 4 days of his detention. When his whereabouts were not known his wife filed an application in the Supreme Court under Habeas Corpus.

On inquiry the court came to a conclusion that the police had arrested him illegally and with a false and malicious intent thereby violating his constitutional rights. The court held that, police who are the custodians of law and order should have the greatest respect for personal liberty and should not engage in any act of lawlessness. Hence, Mr. Bhim Singh must be adequately compensated for violating his basic legal rights as a member of a legislative assembly.

 

Gloucester Grammar School Case

A common question which arises in Tort law is- how is justice served when damaged is caused to a person without any legal injury? The answer to this question lies in the Gloucester Grammar School Case[4]. In this case, the defendant was a teacher in the plaintiff’s school. But due to some disputes, he had set up a rival school to that of the plaintiff’s with the result that the plaintiffs were required to reduce the tuition fees of their school as the students from the plaintiff’s school shifted to the defendant’s school as he was popular among students for his teaching.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for the monetary loss caused. It was held that plaintiffs had no cause of action against the defendant on the ground that bonafide competitions cause no action, whatever damages it may cause. Compensation cannot be granted as there was no infringement of any legal right.

So a situation where damage is caused without any legal injury is known as ‘damnum sine injuria’ which means ‘injury caused without any actual loss.’ So a person who suffers damage without any legal right being violated is not titled to compensation.

 

Mayor of Bradford vs. Pickle, 1985

In the case of Mayor of Bradford vs. Pickle, 1985[5] the petitioner had water springs on his land through which water was supplied to the entire city. Adjacent to it was the defendant’s land. Under the defendant’s land were natural reservoirs which supplied water to the plaintiff’s springs. However, the defendant sank a shaft into his land which reduced the amount of water flowing into the plaintiff’s springs. The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s action was with a malicious intent and hence they were titled to injunctions.

The issue raised in this case was, can a use of property which is legal if due to a proper motive become illegal because it is promoted by a motive which is malicious? The court held that the defendant being the owner of his land can divert or restrict the water flow according to his own wish and it is legal to do so. So the motive behind this act becomes irrelevant as far as the action is legal. Therefore, it was confirmed that the intention behind the act does not matter as far as the act is within the ambit of legality.

Conclusion

Thus, we have seen the above five important judgments which highlight the basics of Torts. Negligence, injuria sine damno, false imprisonment, damnum sine injuria are some of the common but very important ingredients under Tort law among others. As Torts deal with the infringement of the most basic legal rights of an individual, Tort law forms the very base of the legal field whose principles are used to form laws for other severe crimes.

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References

[1] Municipal Corporation Of Delhi vs. Subhagwanti & Others(With … on 24 February, 1 1966 AIR 1750, 1966 SCR (3) 649 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/706862/

[2] Ashby vs. White, 1703 2 Lord Raym 933 https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/torts/torts-keyed-to-prosser/civil-rights/ashby-v-white/

[3] Bhim Singh vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir, 1985 (AIR 1986 SC 494) https://indiankanoon.org/doc/61710/

[4] http://www.ejusticeindia.com/case-summary-gloucester-grammar-school-case/

[5] Mayor of Bradford vs. Pickle, 1985 http://www.uniset.ca/other/cs5/1895AC587.html


Author Details: Sayali Jayesh Mandlik ((ILS Law College, Pune)

 

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