Law of Torts

General Principles of Liability in Tort

Torts are basically civil wrongs which lead to civil damages. These are rights which people generally have against the whole world. In order to enforce these rights, the law recognizes certain principles of tort liability. Since the law of tort is not codified, we need to rely on precedents and jurisprudence to understand these principles.

Tort Liability

Principles of Tort Liability

Although most principles of tort law originate from English common law, Indian courts have modified them to meet local requirements. The following are some important tort law principles:

1) Damnum Sine Injuria

Damnum sine injuria is a Latin legal maxim which basically means damage without injury. It means an actual loss which occurs without the infringement of any legal rights.

This is because the mere loss of money or money’s worth does not amount to any tort. In order to constitute some tort, real violation of some rights must take place in the form of legal damage.

No liability can arise in such cases. For example, let’s say a person has been owning a stationery shop on a street for several years. If his business rival opens a bigger stationery shop nearby, this person cannot sue him for his diminishing profits. This is because no legal injury occurs to him.

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2) Injuria Sine Damno

In contrast with damnum sine injuria, the principle of injuria sine damno means an infringement of rights without actual losses. Since this leads to infringement of rights, liability can arise even if no person suffers actual or substantial losses.

For example, trespassing of property is a serious violation of a person’s right to protect his property. In such cases, the trespasser is liable to pay compensation even if he causes no real damage.

3) Principle of Vicarious Liability

The general rule of tort liability is that the person who causes damage must pay compensation. In certain cases, however, liability can arise on third parties also. The law refers to this vicarious liability.

In order for vicarious liability to arise, there should be some legal relationship between the defendant and the third party. In other words, the law must be able to attribute and extend liability to the third party.

For example, the law of partnership recognizes that partners are agents of each other. Therefore, one partner can be liable for the defaults of another.

Vicarious liability can also arise in the course of employment due to the master-servant relationship between employers and employees.

4) Volenti Non-Fit Injuria

Sometimes it may so happen that a person may suffer damages when he consents to some act. This consent may be in the form of knowledge of the possibility of damage and free will to undergo it. A person who understands the risks he may incur while doing something and still does it cannot seek compensation.

For example, imagine that a spectator suffered injuries after a cricket ball hit him on his head. The spectator cannot claim compensation from the batsman or any organizer in this case. This is because the law presumes that he was aware of these risks and still went to watch the match.

5) Strict Liability and Absolute Liability

These two principles levy liabilities on industrial and business ventures when their commercial activities cause damages to the public. They basically state that liability in some cases should arise even in the absence of intention or negligence.

Strict liability

The rule of a strict liability says that if a business’s commercial activities harm somebody, it should compensate him. This liability will arise even if it took all necessary precautions to prevent the damage.

For example, in Rylands v. Fletcher, water from a person’s mill entered and damaged his neighbour’s mines. The court levied liability on the defendant even though it was his contractor who was at fault and not him.

Absolute liability

If the law imposes strict liability on a person, it also allows him to take certain defences. For example, a defendant may say that the damage occurred due to natural calamities beyond his control.

In absolute liability, however, he cannot take any defence whatsoever and has to pay compensation in all cases. This happens in cases of damages arising from hazardous activities, like the Bhopal Gas Disaster.

Solved Question on Tort Liability

Match the following attributes with the principles of tort liability they relate to.

(a) A third party can be liable to pay damages.   (1) Absolute liability
(b) Plaintiff assumes and accepts the risks. (2) Injuria sine damno
(c) Damage occurs without injuries. (3) Volenti non fit injuria
(d) The defendant cannot take any defences. (4) Vicarious liability
(e) Infringement of rights without losses. (5) Damnum sine injuria

Answers:          (a) ↔ (4)          (b) ↔ (3)          (c) ↔ (5)          (d) ↔ (1)          (e) ↔ (2)

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