Exceptions to Strict Liability

The imposition of damages on a party irrespective of their fault is defined as strict liability in tort law. In such a case, the plaintiff merely needs to prove that the defendant committed the tort and that caused harm to him/her. Such things happen, especially in a condition where the object or circumstance deems to be inherently harmful. By requiring potential defendants to take all reasonable precautions, it deters careless behaviour and avoidable loss.

However, the imposition of strict liability may seem unfair or harsh, as in Re Polemis, it has the advantageous effect of simplifying and speeding up court rulings in these circumstances.

Origin of the Rule

In the well-known English case of Rylands v. Fletcher, the concept of strict responsibility was first introduced. The defendant in this case owned a mill and desired to enhance its water supply, according to the case's facts. He hired a reputable engineering company to build a reservoir nearby for this reason. The issue arose when the reservoir's water level reached an all-time high one day and began to overflow. Water invaded the plaintiff's mine with such power that it destroyed everything.

The engineers, who worked for the defendant as independent contractors, were definitely at fault. This is due to their carelessness when building the reservoir. The defendant also stated just this in order to discharge his responsibility. Yet the court disapproved and outlined the strict liability principle. It was stated that anything should not escape and have an impact on others when kept on a person's property for their benefit. Even if he wasn't irresponsible, the owner of that thing must pay the victim if it escapes.

Essentials of Strict Liability

A strict liability is one that satisfies all three of these requirements at once. These three essentials are listed below −

Dangerous Substances

Only in the event that a "hazardous" substance escapes from the defendant's property would he be held strictly accountable. Any material that may cause trouble or harm if it escapes qualifies as a dangerous substance for the purposes of strict liability. Items that are harmful include things like electricity, toxic gases, explosions, and more.


The material must escape from the premises and not be within the defendant's grasp after it escapes, a further requirement for holding the defendant strictly accountable. For instance, the defendant's land contains a few deadly plants. Plant parts contaminate the plaintiff's property, where they are eaten by his livestock, which then perish. The loss will be the defendant's responsibility. On the other hand, the defendant would not be liable if the plaintiff's cattle entered the defendant's property, ate the poisonous leaves, and perished.

Non-natural Use

A non-natural use of the land is required to establish strict responsibility. The water stored in the reservoir was viewed as a non-natural use of the property in the Rylands v. Fletcher case. Water storage for home purposes is regarded as a natural usage. Nonetheless, the Court deemed it unnatural to store water in order to power a mill. It is important to keep in mind that for something to be called "non-natural," it must be put to some unique purpose that makes it more dangerous for other people. The provision of cooking gas via a pipeline, the installation of electrical wiring in a home, etc. are regarded as examples of natural uses of land. For instance, the defendant won't be held accountable if he starts a fire in his fireplace and a spark escapes, starting a fire, because that was a normal use of the property.

Exceptions to Strict Liability

The following exceptions do not apply in situations involving the strict liability rule −

Act of God

An act of God is something that no one can expect as well as no one can control it, as it is sudden, direct, and overpowering act of nature for which no one can logically imagine. It does not matter, how many safeguards are taken, it might still cause damage. For examples, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, unusual rainfall, etc. These actions do not give rise to strict liability for any harm that results from them.

Wrongful act of a third party

In some given circumstance, damage or injury might result through the interference of outside parties. For example, renovation activity in one apartment may bother residents in another apartment. The harmed renter in this case cannot bring a lawsuit against his landlord. He is limited to suing the guy who remodelled the other flat.

Plaintiff’s own fault

In some of the cases, it is found that the plaintiff is directly responsible for the harm he or she experiences. Regardless of how much he suffers, he cannot shift responsibility in such circumstances to someone else.

Consent of the Plaintiff

If the plaintiff had given their consent for a dangerous thing to accumulate on the defendant's property, then the principle Volenti non fit injuria will be applied. In other words, when the source of the hazard offers a shared benefit, this consent is assumed. If a water tank is built atop a building for communal use, any harm brought on by the water leaking out or the tank collapsing will not be actionable because it was built for "common benefit"—as in the case of London Guarantee v. North-Western Utilities, residents cannot hold the defendant accountable (if he wasn't negligent) under this law for damages if they live nearby and use any public utility project, such as petrol or a waterfall, for "common benefit."

Statutory Authority

If one's conduct were mandated by a statute and there was no carelessness on the part of the actor, one simply cannot be held accountable under the principle of strict liability. The defendants in Green v. Chelsea Waterworks Co. had a legal obligation to maintain a consistent supply of water. A few pipes broke naturally during the operation and without any carelessness on the part of the company, harming the plaintiff's premises nearby. The business was not held responsible for any damages because they had been required to do so by law.


Even though the term "strict liability" may not be applied and defendant cannot take advantage of it, but still there are certain conditions, where defendant can be excused. Vehicle traffic offences frequently fall under the strict liability doctrine. For instance, if Aaman is driving wrong side, then despite the fact that Rohan who is driving his side, caused injury to him, Rohan won’t be held liable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the defences to strict liability?

Ans. Assumption of risk, the statute of limitations, the statute of repose, and federal preemption are common responses to allegations of strict responsibility.

Q2. What are the objectives of strict liability?

Ans. With limited limitations, strict liability dictates that one must bear responsibility for any harm caused by the use of dangerous objects, escape, or unnatural usage of the soil. Unquestionably, a greater definition of this responsibility is absolute accountability.

Q3. What are the principles of strict liability?

Ans. Strict liability occurs when a defendant is held accountable for an activity regardless of his or her purpose or state of mind at the time the action was committed, in both tort and criminal law. Strict liability offences in criminal law include crimes of possession and statutory rape.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started