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      One of seven exceptions of rule of strict liability laid down in Rylands v. Flectcer (1868) LR 3 HL 330,  is act of stranger i.e. if the escape was caused by the unforeseeable act of a stranger, the rule does not apply. But, in a case of electrocution, the Electricity Board can not escape from its liability on the ground of this exception.

This verdict was given by the Supreme Court in M.P. Electricity Board, Appellant v. Shail Kumar AIR 2002 SC 551. In this case a workman in a factory was riding on a bicycle on the night while returning from his factory. There was rain and hence the road was partially inundated with water. The cyclist did not notice the live wire on the road and hence he rode the vehicle over the wire which twitched and snatched him and he was instantaneously electrocuted. He fell down and died within minutes.

When the action was brought by his widow and minor son, the main contention advanced by the Electricity Board was that one Hari Gaikwad (third respondent) had taken a wire from the main supply line in order to siphon the energy for his own use and the said act of pilferage was done clandestinely without even the notice of the Board, and that the line got unfastened from the hook and it fell on the road over which the cycle ridden by the deceased slide resulting in the instantaneous electrocution. The Board made an endeavour to rely on the exception to the rule of strict liability (Rylands v. Fletcher) being "an act of stranger".

The Supreme Court held that the said exception is not available to the Board as the act attributed to the third respondent should reasonably have been anticipated or at any rate its consequences should have been prevented by the appellant-Board. Even assuming that all such measures have been adopted, a person undertaking an activity involving hazardous or risky exposure to human life, is liable under law of torts to compensate for the injury suffered by any other person, irrespective of any negligence or carelessness on the part of the managers of such undertakings. The basis of such liability is the foreseeable risk inherent in the very nature of such activity. The liability cast on such person is known, in law, as "strict liability". It differs from the liability which arises on account of the negligence or fault in this way i.e. the concept of negligence comprehends that the foreseeable harm could be avoided by taking reasonable precautions. If the defendant did all that which could be done for avoiding the harm he cannot be held liable when the action is based on any negligence attributed. But such consideration is not relevant in cases of strict liability where the defendant is held liable irrespective of whether he could have avoided the particular harm by taking precautions.

The responsibility to supply electric energy in the particular locality is statutorily conferred on the Electricity Board. If the energy so transmitted causes injury or death of a human being, who gets unknowingly trapped into it the primary liability to compensate the sufferer is that of the supplier of the electric energy. So long as the voltage of electricity transmitted through the wires is potentially of dangerous dimension the managers of its supply have the added duty to take all safety measures to prevent escape of such energy or to see that the wire snapped would not remain live on the road as users of such road would be under peril. It is no defense on the part of the management of the Board that somebody committed mischief by siphoning such energy to his private property and that the electrocution was from such diverted line. It is the look out of the managers of the supply system to prevent such pilferage by installing necessary devices. At any rate, if any live wire got snapped and fell on the public road the electric current thereon should automatically have been disrupted. Authorities manning such dangerous commodities have extra duty to chalk out measures to prevent such mishaps.

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Category Civil Law, Other Articles by - Swami Sadashiva Brahmendra Sar