Absolute Liability: Concept and Significance

Following the infamous "oleum gas leak case," the idea of absolute culpability was developed in India. One of the landmark cases in Indian law is this one. The term strict responsibility or liability was first time used in the M.C. Mehta case, but no exceptions were provided and the defendant was held entirely responsible for the incident caused by his servants’ negligence. According to the ruling in the Ryland v. Fletcher case, the defendant will not be permitted to raise a defense if he or she was at fault.

Meaning of Absolute Liability

There was an urgent necessity to create a rule under strict responsibility that had no exceptions accessible to the defendant to escape the obligation after the Bhopal gas leak case. Many people died as a result of the Bhopal gas leak, and generations of people are still suffering from some of the most heinous diseases. In comparison to the rules established by the House of Lords in the case of Ryland v. Fletcher, the rule established by the Honorable Supreme Court of India is far more expansive. The Supreme Court stated that a business will be held strictly and completely accountable to pay all individuals who are harmed by an accident if it is involved in a hazardous or intrinsically risky activity and any injury is caused to anybody as a result of the accident while it is operating.


The strict responsibility norm and absolute liability are often regarded as legal exceptions. And only when the person is at fault is he or she held accountable. However, even if the person is not at fault in certain situations, they may still be considered guilty. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, was created following the disastrous Oleum Gas Leak Case catastrophe with the primary objective of giving quick redress to those who are victims of accidents involving the handling of dangerous chemicals. The goal of this legislation was to establish a public liability insurance fund that would eventually be utilized to compensate the victims. According to this legislation, a hazardous material is any substance that has the potential to harm people, other living things, plants, microorganisms, property, or the environment due to its chemical composition or other attributes. Section 2(c) of the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991, which expresses the rule of absolute liability established in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, defines the term “handling.”

Important Components of Absolute Liability

It includes 

  • Hazardous item  Only when a harmful object has escaped from the owner's property, whether because of negligence or an accident, owner/s will be held accountable. Additionally, if the object escapes, it might cause injury to both people and property. Numerous strict liability cases have found the following things to be dangerous: a substantial pool of water, electricity, gas, explosives, smells, corroded wires, etc.

  • Escape − The defendant is completely responsible for any harmful material that escaped from their control and caused damage to the people living or passing nearby or their property. In the case of Lyons and Co. v. Read, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant's manufacturing company. as she went about her business When a manufactured product exploded, she was severely injured. According to the court, the plaintiff was on the job when the accident occurred, and she was fulfilling her task. The court ruled that the defendant cannot escape his obligations and that the strict liability concept is not applicable in this case. The accuser was held responsible.

  • Non-natural land use  Water collection in vast numbers, such as that found in a reservoir, is seen as a non-natural use of land rather than only water gathering for home use. In the case of Ryland v. Fletcher, it was decided that extensive water collecting is an unnatural use of property. By taking into account the environment, society, and what a reasonable person would do, one may distinguish between a natural and non-natural use of land. On a person's property, planting trees is seen as a natural use of the land; however, planting toxic trees is regarded as a non-natural use of the land.

Critical Analysis of the Concept

In order to be held liable under this concept, the plaintiff must first show that the defendant used the property in an unnatural way and took precautions to keep it out of harm's way, both of which contributed to the injury. The ruling is still recognized as a major one in our country's environmental law. The ruling addressed several innovative situations and strategies involving the judicial system and basic rights. The principles stated in this case are still being followed by the court. This case therefore marks a significant court ruling in Indian legal history.

The lawsuit wasn't just about people's rights, compensation, and economic losses; it also placed the importance of environmental concerns before the entire country. Both this and the Bhopal gas disaster had extremely risky impacts on the environment. In the modern world of industrial expansion and technological innovation, the threat to the environment is extremely real and present.

Even if this progress is crucial for society's advancement, it is vital to highlight the environmental problems it raises. Every day that passes brings us one step closer to the death of the environment. Everyone has access to the environment, and everyone has a human right to a secure and healthy environment. Everyone has a responsibility to strive toward it and contribute to its advancement.


The ancient rule gave rise to the rule of absolute liability, which cannot be applied from the perspective of Indian law since it is inapplicable for the reasons that it emerged as a result of rapid industrial development, extensive agricultural use of land, etc. We are all aware that India is a growing nation with a developing economy and that the notion of strict liability is an established idea. The previous norm came into existence when there was less opportunity for industrial expansion than there is now, when the nation is experiencing rapid industrial growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Who did first propose the idea of absolute liability?

Ans: In the cases of M.C. Mehta v. UOI and the Bhopal Gas Leak, the Honorable Supreme Court of India established the principle of absolute liability.

Q2. What does absolute responsibility serve?

Ans: The prosecution does not need to establish purpose, knowledge, recklessness, or carelessness with regard to an element of an offense where culpability for that element is absolute.

Q3. What does absolute responsibility define?

Ans: When a business engages in an activity that is harmful or inherently dangerous and injury is caused to anyone as a consequence of an accident while carrying out that activity, comes under the category of absolute responsibility.

Updated on: 16-Jan-2023


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