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Inevitable Accident in Torts

Inevitable Accident in Torts
Inevitable Accident in Torts


Understanding Inevitable Accident

Accident, in legal terms, signifies an unforeseen injury. When an injury occurs that could not have been anticipated or prevented, despite reasonable care on the part of the defendant, it is deemed an inevitable accident. 

As noted by Pollock, the term doesn't imply absolute inevitability but rather indicates an event not avoidable by precautions a reasonable person would take in similar circumstances.

Thus, it serves as a valid defence if the defendant can demonstrate that they neither intended harm to the plaintiff nor could have averted the injury through reasonable care.


Legal Precedents

In the case of Stanley v. Powell, members of a shooting party were involved in pheasant shooting when a shot intended for a bird ricocheted off a tree, accidentally injuring the plaintiff. The court ruled the injury as accidental, absolving the defendant of liability.

Similarly, in Assam State Coop., etc. Federation Ltd. v. Smt. Anubha Sinha, a fire broke out in premises rented by the plaintiff due to a probable short circuit. Despite the tenant's request for repairs, the landlord failed to act. The court deemed it an inevitable accident, thus relieving the tenant of liability.

In Shridhar Tiwari v. U.P. State Road Transport Corporation, a bus driver, while attempting to avoid a cyclist on a wet road, collided with another bus. Despite both drivers exercising caution, the accident occurred due to unavoidable circumstances, leading to the defendant Corporation being held not liable.

Likewise, in Holmes v. Mather, startled horses caused by a barking dog resulted in an accident, yet the defendant, exercising due care, was absolved of liability, emphasising the principle of unavoidable accidents.

In Brown v. Kendall, while separating fighting dogs, the defendant accidentally injured the plaintiff. The court deemed it a pure accident, thereby denying the plaintiff's claim.

Similarly, in Padmavati v. Dugganaika, a fatal jeep accident was deemed an instance of sheer accident as there was no evidence of detectable defects. Consequently, the driver and owner were not held liable.

Accidental Damage and Legal Liability

In certain legal contexts, accidental damage to property is deemed not actionable, as exemplified in the Nitro-Glycerine case and National Coal Board v. Evans.

In the former, carriers unknowingly transported a box containing Nitro-Glycerine, which exploded upon inspection, damaging a plaintiff's office building. Since the carriers had no reason to suspect the contents, they were not held liable for the ensuing damage. 

Similarly, in National Coal Board v. Evans, damage to an electric cable during excavation was deemed an inevitable accident, absolving the defendants of liability due to the plaintiff's predecessor's wrongful placement of the cable.

Limits of the Inevitable Accident Defence

The defence of inevitable accident hinges on the unforeseeability and unavoidability of an event despite reasonable precautions. However, if an event can be anticipated and its consequences mitigated through reasonable measures, the defence cannot be invoked. 

A notable illustration is provided by the Supreme Court's ruling in S. Vedantacharya v. Highways Department of South Arcot, where negligence was attributed to the Highways Department for failing to strengthen culverts against heavy rain and floods, which were foreseeable events. Thus, the department couldn't absolve itself of liability merely by citing natural occurrences.

Negligence Versus Inevitable Accident

Instances such as using old and worn-out tires or neglecting vehicle maintenance leading to accidents do not qualify as inevitable accidents. For example, in Oriental Fire & General Ins. Co. Ltd. v. Raj Rani, a truck's mechanical failure resulted in a collision due to inadequate maintenance.

As the defendants failed to demonstrate reasonable precautions, the court ruled it as negligence rather than an inevitable accident, thus holding them liable.


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