MP Electricity Board vs Shail Kumar case differentiated Rule of Strict Liability and Tortious Negligence. It was also decided whether the defendant takes the exception of ‘Act of a stranger’ to abscond from the liability.
Jogendra Singh, while riding through bicycle at night, instantaneously electrocuted and died through a live electric wire lying on the road filled partially with rainwater, which was used by Hari Gaikwad (3rd Respondent),
His widow wife and minor son claimed for the sum of Rs. 6.39 Lakhs, but the trial court assessed the compensation amounted to Rs. 4.34 Lakhs to the claimants.
Contention & Issues:
- Whether the electricity board is strictly liable or is negligently liable under the Law of Torts?
- Can the defendant take the exception of ‘Act of a stranger’ to abscond from the liability?
- Whether the compensation awarded is in consonance with the damages suffered or not?
Ratio & Decision:
J Thomas: The Court quoted ‘Rylands v. Fletcher’ in which the Strict Liability rule was propounded by Lord Blackburn J., as per which “the person who, for his own purpose, 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 so he is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape”.
The same happened in this. He distinguished Strict Liability from negligence in a manner that, a person could avoid foreseeable harm by taking preventive measures but in the case of ‘Strict Liability’, a person is strictly liable even if he had already taken preventive measures to avoid foreseeable harm.
Still, there are several exceptions of ‘Strict liability’ and one of which is ‘Act of a stranger/Act of a third party’ which the defendants are using here to abscond from their liability but this exception doesn’t apply here because of two reasons:
- Because actions of the third party could be possibly anticipated from the defendants and also in either way, consequences could also have been prevented by the board if it could take reasonable care with due diligence.
- As long as the power transmitted in the wires is potentially dangerous and also could take the life of any person, it adds on to the duty of the board and management to take all safety measures to prevent any escape from such potentially harmful transmission wires.
The Court also used similar reasoning laid down in cases such as Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India, Gujarat State Rod Transport Corporation v. Ramanbhai Prabhatbhain, Kaushnuma Begum v. New India Assurance Co. Ltd. and M.C Mehta v. Union of India (1987)while granting the decision.
The Court, in this case, directed the electricity board to pay the compensation to the widowed wife and minor son of the deceased person and also held that the electricity board cannot escape from the liability and it doesn’t create any difference that whether the 3rd respondent could interfere or not, the potentially dangerous power in the electricity cables makes the board Strictly liable and no defense prevails.
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