Death by Negligence | Liability cast upon the State under law of Torts to Compensate the Petitioners on account of Negligence and Carelessness lie within the Parameters of Strict Liability: High Court of J&K&L

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  • Post published:March 2, 2022
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The Bench of Justice Javed Iqbal Wani has observed in a petition that the liability cast upon the State in law under law of Torts to compensate the petitioners on account of negligence and carelessness would lie within the parameters of “strict liability”.

The Court further observed that it is settled and undisputed principle of law of Torts that master is answerable for every such wrong of his servant as is committed in the course of his service though no express command or privity of master be proved and the wrongful act may not be for the master’s benefit. This doctrine of liability of master for the acts of his servant is based on the maxim respondent superior, which means “let the principal be liable” and it puts the master in the same position as if he has done the act himself.

Facts:

In the instant case, the petitioners (dependents of the deceased) had sought compensation on account of death of the deceased due to electrocution while fixing/maintenance of faulty electric transformer. It was stated in the petition that the deceased was working as a Daily wager in the Power Development Department, Jammu and it was only on the instructions of respondent no 3 (Lineman) the deceased removed bolt of the transformer due to which he was electrocuted leading into his death on spot. It was contented that the death of the deceased was result of negligent act of the respondent no. 3, a government employee working under respondent No.1 and 2.

Observations of the Court:

At the outset, the Court said that the moot point that begs consideration in the instant matter is as to whether under Article 226, the petitioners being dependents of the deceased will be entitled to the compensation from the respondents and if yes to what extent on account of the death of the deceased due to the electricity mishap in question.

The Court noted that the respondent No.3 (Lineman) had sought assistance of the deceased in the process of fixing/maintenance of faulty electric transformer and the respondent No.3, being an employee of the respondent No.1 and 2, utilized the services of the deceased for the aforesaid purpose on the fateful day.

Maxim: Respondent Superior – Let the Principal be Liable:

The Court while fixing the liability of the Respondents observed:

“…..8. In view of the aforesaid admitted position, even though the primary liability of the incident is upon the respondent No.3 yet the said liability would be vicarious vis-a-vis respondent No.1 and 2 as in law it is settled and undisputed principle of law of Torts that master in answerable for every such wrong of his servant as is committed in the course of his service though no express command or privity of master be proved and the wrongful act may not be for the masters benefit. This doctrine of liability of master for the acts of his servant is based on the maxim respondent superior, which means “let the principal be liable” and it puts the master in the same position as if he has done the act himself. The doctrine of sovereign immunity based on common law principle that the king commits no wrong has been held by the Apex court in case titled as “State of Rajasthan Vs. Mst. Vidyawati reported in AIR 1962 SC 933” not to be applicable in principle or public interest that the State should not be held liable vicariously for the tortuous acts of the servants and that State like any other employer is vicariously liable.”

Aggrieved entitled to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 226 for violation of the fundamental right to life of the deceased:

9. Keeping in mind the aforesaid legal position, since the deceased has lost his life on account of negligent act of respondent No. 3 done by him in the course of his employment, as such, the petitioners as an aggrieved party would be entitled to invoke the jurisdiction of this court under Article 226 for violation of the fundamental right to life of the deceased and consequently of the petitioners being his dependents for survival, enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the bench of Justice Iqbal Wani observed.

Rule of Strict Liability – M C Mehta vs. Union of India (1987 (1) SCC 395)

The Court relied upon the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in M C Mehta vs Union of India and observed thus:

10. The liability cast upon the State in law under law of Torts to compensate the petitioners on account of negligence and carelessness supra would lie within the parameters of “strict liability”. Although there are exceptions to the rule of strict liability, yet the Apex court has held in case titled as “MC Mehta Vs. Union of India reported in 1987 (1) SCC 395”, has held that where an enterprise is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous activity and harm is caused on any one on account of the accident in the operation of the such activity, the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate those who are affected by the accident; such liability is not subject to any of the acceptions to the principle of strict liability under the rule in Rylands Vs. Fletcher.

In this backdrop, the Court issued a Writ of Mandamus and directed the respondents to pay an amount of Rs. Rs.8,32,850/- along with interest @7.5% per annum from the date filing of the petition as compensation to the petitioners for the death of the deceased.

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Case Details:
SMT. MASKEENA BIBI & ORS. Vs STATE OF J&K & OTHERS
OWP No.1321/2013
CORAM: Justice Javed Iqbal Wani
Mr. M. L. Gupta, Advocate, appeared for the Petitioners.
Mr. Amit Gupta, AAG-for R1 & R2. Mr. Vikram Sharma, Sr. Advocate with Mr. Sachin Dev Singh, Advocate-for R3., appeared for the Respondents.
Decided on: 25-02-2022