IMAPCT OF TORT LAW

ABSTRACT:

This article examines impact of tort on workplace safety using an empirical analysis of the United States. The analysis focuses on the impact of tort laws on injury rates and injury severity across industries and regions. The results show that legislation has a significant and positive impact on occupational safety, reducing the number and severity of accidents in all industries and regions. The paper discusses the implications of these findings for policy makers and employers and suggests future directions for research in this area.

KEYWORDS:

Tort Law, Negligence, Breach of Statutory Duty, Strict Liability, Liability, Remedies, Product Liability, Evidence on the tort law stimulus to safety

INTRODUCTION:

Workplace safety is an important issue for employers, employees, and society. Injuries and fatalities in the workplace can lead to lost productivity, increased costs, and negative social outcomes. The legal system plays an important role in promoting workplace safety by providing incentives for employers to take reasonable precautions to prevent accidents and injuries. Tort law is one aspect of the legal system that provides these incentives by allowing individuals who have been injured or harmed by the actions or inactions of others to seek compensation through civil lawsuits. This paper examines the effect of tort law on workplace safety using an empirical analysis of data from the United States.[1]

Workplace safety has been an issue for centuries, with the first recorded factory accident taking place in Manchester, [2]England in 1784. Since then, governments have regulated workplace safety through laws such as the Workplace Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in the United States. However, workplace accidents and injuries still occur, causing physical, emotional, and financial harm to workers and employers.

Tort Law has played an important role in promoting workplace safety by holding employers accountable for their acts or omissions that result in injury or harm in the workplace. The Civil Liability Act, 2010 provides a legal framework for injured workers to claim compensation for their losses and encourages employers to take appropriate action to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace.

1.DONOGHUE V. STEVENSON (1932)[3]

PRINCIPLE USED: DOCTRINE OF NEGLIGENCE AND NEIGHBOUR PRINCIPLE

The incident occurred on 26 August 1928. According to the facts as they were known at the time, the defendant, Mr David Stevenson, purchased a bottle of ginger beer from a friend. This bottle was manufactured by Mr Stevenson and was purchased from a well meadow café.

The defendant drank a large quantity of the beer and then poured the remainder into a glass, which she placed in the bear’s mouth. The bear then opened the glass and discovered that the snail had decomposed inside it. Because the beer bottle was opaque, it was difficult for Mr Stevenson to detect the snail’s decomposition. As a result of this, Mr Stevenson was left in a state of shock and suffering from a severe case of gastritis.

JUDGEMENT OF THE COURT:

The second principle laid down the idea that the manufacturers could be held liable for the injuries caused by their products. It was observed that the manufacturers had a duty of care towards the consumers who used their end products. Reasonable care must be taken by the manufacturers and those who breached this condition should be held liable for serving defective products to the consumers which might be harmful to them.

2.RYLANDS V. FLETCHER (1868)[4]

PRINCIPLE USED: STRICT LIABILITY-

FACTS OF THIS CASE:

  • The Court ruled in favour of the appellant by a 3-2 vote, with Lord Buckmaster, Lord Tomlin dissenting.
  • This judgment was a significant one, as it laid down three new principles in relation to the case at hand.
  • First, negligence was introduced as a tort whose infringement could lead to legal action.
  • If the plaintiff has been injured or suffered loss of property as a result of the defendant’s failure to take reasonable care, then the plaintiff is entitled to bring a civil action. The defendant is then required to pay the compensation with due regard to the type and extent of the injury or loss.
  • In the past, this was only possible if there was a contract between the parties prior to the claim being brought. In this case, the claimant was able to claim damages in the absence of such a contract.
  • In the second part of the judgment, the Court held the defendant liable for the injuries suffered by the consumer because of consuming their product.
  • In the case at hand, the defendants were the mill owners of a coal mine in the Lancashire coal mining area. They decided to build a reservoir on their property.
  • When the reservoir was built and the water was filled, it broke through an abandoned coal miners filled-in shaft.
  • The water flooded the connected passages and the plaintiff’s active mine in the vicinity was destroyed.
  • When the matter proceeded to trial, the court found the defendants not guilty of negligence as, at the time the reservoir was being built, they were unaware of an abandoned my shaft.
  • Following the plaintiffs’ filing of an appeal, the Exchequer Chamber reversed the trial court’s ruling and placed the defendants under strict liability. However, the issue was that the defendants may be punished under any of the current torts to get out of this case. Since the flooding was indirect, there was no trespassing. Furthermore, it wasn’t a bother because nothing persistently irritating or bothersome was present.
  • Finally, the matter reached the House of Lords when the defendants appealed.

ISSUES RAISED IN THIS CASE:

• Is it possible for the defendants to be held accountable for unknowingly and indirectly flooding the plaintiff’s operating mines?

•Which tort could the defendants be prosecuted for if they are found liable?

JUDGEMENT OF THE COURT:

The Exchequer Chamber court’s verdict was upheld by the House of Lords, which also declared the defendants accountable. The defendants were held accountable under the “strict liability” doctrine, which was also established by the court.

THE DOCTRINE OF STRICT LIABILITY[5]

The requirements for the application of the doctrine of strict liability, as laid down in, are as follows:

THE DEFENDANT MUST HAVE BROGHT SOMETHING ON HIS LAND:

This condition stipulates that an entity must be brought onto the land from the outside in order to be accountable under strict responsibility. It shouldn’t be a naturally occurring plant or terrain feature. It must be accumulated by the defendant in an artificial manner. In this instance, it was the substantial amount of water that the defendants in the reservoir on their property purposefully accumulated.

NON NATURAL USE OF LAND:

The second prerequisite is that it must entail a land use that is not naturally occurring. In this instance, the land’s use for holding vast amounts of water in a reservoir constituted a non-natural usage.

LIKELY TO DO MISCHIEF:

Anything placed onto the land from outside for an artificial purpose needs to have the potential to cause trouble if it were to escape. If the massive amount of water in this situation managed to escape in any way, it might have caused a great deal of damage.

The material that was brought onto the land with the potential to cause trouble must leave the land. In this case, the plaintiff’s mines were inundated by escaped water from the defendant’s land reservoir.

FORESEABILITY:

The harm caused by the escape of that dangerous substance must be foreseeable.

DEFENCES TO THE DOCTRINE OF STRICT LIABILITY:

 After the development of this doctrine, a few defences have also been developed to the rule of STRICT LIABILITY: Some of them are the following:

CONSENT:

If it is discovered that the claimant provided explicit or tacit approval for the existence of that hazardous material that could escape and cause trouble, it is assumed that the defendant was not negligent and that he would not be held accountable.

ACT OF THIRD PARTY:

The defendant won’t be held accountable if the escape is linked to the actions or meddling of a third party.

STATUTORY AUTHORITY:

If a statute mandates that a person or body perform a certain task, then that person or body can avoid strict liability.

ACT OF GOD:

 Any unnatural occurrence that was not foreseeable by humans, such as a powerful earthquake, an unusually heavy downpour, a tsunami, etc., is considered an act of God.

CLAIMANT FAULT:

The defendant will not be held accountable if the claimant’s actions caused the escape.    Furthermore, the claimant might have contributed to the accident.

She first filed a case alleging a contract’s violation of warranty. She was not a party to any contracts with the manufacturer, so this argument was dismissed. Thus, the House of Lords received an appeal. She filed a claim for damages related to her injuries.

ISSUES RAISED IN THIS CASE:

  • If there was no formal contract between the two parties, was the manufacturer still obligated to the appellant?
  • Up until that point, it was a well-established truth that, with rare exceptions, the manufacturer had no obligation of care to the customer in the absence of any previous contract.
  • The first exception occurred when the maker neglected to warn the customer despite the product’s inherent hazard.
  • The second instance included a product that was deemed harmful due to a flaw that the maker had concealed from the customer, which was deemed to constitute fraudulent activity. Therefore, the second question was whether the appellant might have a cause of action based on the ginger beer if it fit into these categories.

PRODUCT LIABILITY:[6]

  • Both tortious and non-tortious circumstances can be used to assess product liability. As was previously said, negligence is the natural consequence of failing to uphold a relevant level of care and involves assigning blame. Statements concerning a particular product and guarantees that they are true are called warranties (over which one may seek remedy if that is not the case). Since warranties are contracts, standard contract law is applicable. Unlike the other two forms of product responsibility, “strict liability” refers to tort law that holds a maker liable for specific kinds of harm even in cases where there was no intent to cause harm and a reasonable level of care was taken to prevent harm.
  • In this instance, the sole prerequisites are that a tort was committed and that the guilty party was found. Nonetheless, it’s critical to understand that the damage was caused by a product flaw (rather than the wrong usage of the product). Punitive damages may also be granted in strict liability cases if it is shown that the manufacturer knew about the flaw prior to any harm being done. The technical executive should be well-versed in this rapidly changing field of tort law to comprehend the numerous implications for both product development and product support.[7]

KEY POINTS:

Product liability can fall under the purview of either tort law or contract law.

  • Subject to current contract law, warranties constitute a contract between the manufacturer and the buyer. Strict liability is a constantly evolving area of tort law where manufacturers are liable for defects where neither negligence nor intent is established but a tort has occurred due to a manufactured product.

• Brand Names vs. Generics: Product Liability and Preemption

• Walker, EP. June 24, 2011, Med Page Today: Supreme Court Rules on Labelling Issue for Generic Drugmakers.

•Diana Levine filed a personal injury lawsuit against Wyeth (a pharmaceutical corporation) in 2009, claiming that the business had neglected to provide sufficient warnings about possible side effects associated with the IV-push administration of the medication Phenergan. According to Wyeth, state laws pertaining to adverse event warnings were superseded by federal law under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and Food and Drug Agency (FDA) drug labelling regulations. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that in this instance, state tort laws and the obligation to warn are not superseded by federal law.

  • To treating digestive issues, Gladys Mensing and Julie Demahy were prescribed the generic form of metoclopramide in the combined cases of Piva, Inc. v. Mensing and Actavis, Inc. v. Demahy in 2011. Both ladies experienced involuntary movements and a neurological illness known as tardive dyskinesia after taking the generic medication for several years.
  • Using identical arguments from Levine v. Wyeth, the ladies sued Piva and Actavis separately, arguing that the metoclopramide label failed to sufficiently warn of the danger of tardive dyskinesia, and that state law insufficient warning claims applied. Like Wyeth, Piva and Actavis contended that Mensing and Demahy’s state law claims were superseded by the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and FDA regulations, which regulate the entire drug approval and labelling process. They said this because it was impossible to comply with both. Since ‘federal statutes and FDA regulations required them to use the same safety and efficacy labelling as their brand-name counterparts’, the generic versions of the medication were in fact required to use the same labels as the brand name pharmaceuticals.
  • The FDA’s own interpretations of its standards required comparable labelling; the Supreme Court noted in its agreement. Therefore, unlike makers of name-brand products, generic medicine manufacturers are not subject to state tort law liability for failing to add new safety information to the label of a generic version of a drug.

THEORITICAL STIMULUS TO TORT LAW:

  • When one person hurts another and there is no continuing relationship between the parties, tort law is usually applied. Nonetheless, prior to the establishment of workers’ compensation programmes, tort lawsuits were typically utilised in the US as a remedy for workplace injuries, despite the ongoing interaction between employers and employees. If an employer fails to take appropriate precautions to prevent accidents and is found to be at fault, they will be held accountable for all the consequences of the damage where negligence is the legal standard applied to tort actions. Judge Learned Hand established the following criteria for the appropriate preventive measure, which Posner (1972) reiterated.
  • When determining carelessness, the judge (or jury) should try to gauge three things: the extent of the loss in the event of an accident; the likelihood that the accident will occur; and the expense (weight) of implementing preventative measures. Negligence occurs when the product of the first two terms—the projected benefits—outweighs the cost of taking safeguards.
  • Posner argued that proper application of this standard would result in economically efficient incentives to avoid accidents. Burton and Chelius (1997) examine some qualifications to this conclusion.[8]

EVIDENCE ON THE TORT LAW:

  • There are two kinds of empirical data that point to the need for scepticism regarding the contribution of tort lawsuits to workplace safety. The first application of tort litigation as a remedy for occupational injuries dates to the late 1800s and early 1900s. As mentioned earlier, Chelius (1977) discovered that a general decrease in workplace fatalities occurred when workers’ compensation was substituted for the negligence remedy. This general result is qualified by the Fishback (1987) opposing result for a particular industry: coal mining.
  • Secondly, there is a significant debate among legal experts in various areas of tort law on the viability of the theoretical incentives for safety that arise from tort claims. Landes and Posner (1987) provide an example of one school of thought when they say that “what empirical evidence there is indicates that tort law… deters,” even though “there has been little systematic study of the deterrent effect of tort law.” An alternative perspective on tort law’s deterrent impact is given.
  • Priest (1991) concludes that “this relationship between liability payouts and accidents appears typical of other areas of modern tort law as well, such as medical malpractice and product liability.” Priest (1991) finds almost no relationship between actual liability payouts and the accident rate for general aviation.
  • According to Schwartz’s (1994) analysis, there are two types of deterrence: the strong kind (as proposed by Landes and Posner) and the moderate kind (as in “tort law provides a significant amount of deterrence, yet considerably less that the economists’ formulae tend to predict”). After surveying several tort law applications, such as product responsibility, medical malpractice, and driver’s liability, Schwartz concluded that the evidence weakens the strong form of deterrence but supports the moderate form of deterrence sufficiently. Regarding worker injuries, Schwartz stated that “it is unclear whether a tort system or workers’ compensation provides better incentives for workplace safety,” citing the findings of Chelius and Fishback. Burton and Chelius (1997) came to this conclusion.
  • Further examinations of the relative merits of workers’ compensation and the tort system in dealing with workplace accidents are Dewees et al. (1996) and Thomason et al. (1998).

3. VAUGHAN V. TAFF VALE RAILWAY COMPANY (1958)

PRINCIPLES USED IN THIS CASE: 

Statutory exemption from the doctrine of negligence.

FACTS OF THIS CASE:

The plaintiff in this case was the owner of a plantation or wood that was next to the railway embankment. A fire was discovered in the plaintiff’s woods on March 14, 1856. Sparks from the defendant’s locomotive engines during their regular operation were identified as the fire’s primary cause. It was also demonstrated that the wood had been set on fire on several earlier occasions, with the company even covering the losses. The plaintiff brought this lawsuit to obtain payment from the defendant for the burned wood once more. The defendant asserted that they had made the locomotives as safe as a cap had been by taking all reasonable safety measures to avert such a disaster. Even the banks of the railway were covered [9]with inflammable grass. The wood was also full of small dry branches that are combustible in nature.

ISSUES INVOLVED IN THIS CASE:

Can the defendant be held liable for negligence despite taking all the necessary precautions?

JUDGEMENT OF THE COURT IN THIS CASE:

  • First, it was determined that the corporation was negligent. It was noted that the plaintiff had incurred losses because of the fire started by the locomotive sparks. The defendants were not granted the defence that the plaintiff had let his wood become flammable unstable by failing to remove small branches and dry grass.
  • This decision was overturned, though.
  • In the end, it was decided that the defendant’s operations were permitted by the relevant statute. As a result, they could not be held accountable because they had broken the law. Additionally, since the act was permitted by statute and all essential measures were taken, the defendant cannot be found negligent.

IMPACT OF TORT LAW ON WORKPLACE SAFETY AS PER LEGAL ASPECTS:

  1. In the US, liability law has a big influence on occupational safety. Stiff liability for employers is one of the keyways that tort law has affected workplace safety. The term “strict liability” refers to the employer’s legal responsibility for any workplace mishaps or losses brought on by his acts or inactions. This implies that the injured worker need not establish that the harm or damage was the result of the employer’s negligence or fault.
  2. Employers are now more inclined to take appropriate precautions to avoid workplace mishaps and injuries thanks to strict liability. Employers take proactive measures to prevent accidents at work because they are aware that they could be held accountable for damages or injuries sustained there, regardless of who is at blame. Employers, for instance, put safety procedures into place, train staff members on safety, and get insurance to guard against liability.
  1. The Liability Act, which requires companies to use reasonable care, has also improved workplace safety. By exercising due diligence, an employer is required by law to take reasonable precautions to avoid harm or injury at work. All employees are subject to this duty of care, regardless of their position or responsibilities.
  1. Occupational safety laws and regulations are the result of due diligence. It is expected of employers to adhere to these guidelines and rules in order to guarantee the safety of their employees’ working environments. Liability for damages connected to work-related injuries or personal injuries may arise from noncompliance with certain standards and rules.
  1. Tort law has also had an impact on occupational health and safety by fostering the growth of the Superior Response Doctrine. Respondent Superior implies that the employer has liability for the acts of its workers that result in harm or injury at work. Employers are now more inclined to choose competent candidates, give them the necessary training, and take action to stop employee wrongdoing because of this theory.

Leslie Urano and Charles Mitchell in Buron v. Denman (1848). David Ibbetson, George v. Skivington (1869). Michael Lobban, Daniel v. Metropolitan Railway Company (1871). Steve Banks, Woodley v. Metropolitan District Railway Company (1877).

CONCLUSION:

To sum up, this study offers factual proof of the beneficial impact of tort law on occupational safety in the US. According to the data, tort law has a significant role in improving workplace safety, especially in sectors where accident rates and severity are high. The results imply that bolstering tort laws can be a successful tactic for enhancing workplace safety, which has significant ramifications for businesses and policy makers. Subsequent investigations in this field ought to delve into the precise mechanisms by which tort law impacts workplace safety, as well as the possibilities for supplementary tactics like workers’ compensation. When legislators and courts collaborate to address misconduct, statute law and tort law can complement and educate one another.314.4 This idea shouldn’t be a major surprise at all.[10]

  • Name: Achal Bhandari
  • College: Chandigarh University
  • Year: 3rd Year /5th Semester

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/tort-law.

[2] https://www.personalinjurysolicitorsmanchester.net/accident-at-work/.

[3] https://www.lawteacher.net/cases/donoghue-v-stevenson.php.

[4] https://www.informea.org/sites/default/files/court-decisions/Rylands%20vs%20Fletcher.pdf.

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/tort-law.

[6] https://ir.law.utk.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1350&context=utklaw_facpubs.

[7]https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/product_liability#:~:text=Product%20liability%20is%20a%20doctrine,of%20their%20intent%20or%20knowledge.

[8] https://ir.law.utk.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1350&context=utklaw_facpubs.

[9] https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46540.

[10] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/tort-law#:~:text=Burton%20and%20Chelius%20(1997)%20concluded,law%20does%20not%20provide%20much