1. The first defendant appeals.
2. The facts of the case are summarily as follows: On 23rd August 1971, at about 9.15 a.m. one girl by name Mala, aged about 10 years, daughter of the plaintiffs herein, while standing near the shop of the second defendant to purchase cigarettes for her father, came into contact with the cross iron bar attached to the zinc sun shade in front of the said shop and received a heavy electric shock, as a result of which, she died on the way to the General Hospital. The first defendant is the owner of the premises including the three shops in front of the premises. The second defendant is a tenant under the first defendant of one of the shops and is doing business in betel nut, cigarettes etc. The plaintiffs instituted this suit against both the defendants for having them declared to be jointly and severally liable to pay an amount of Rs. 5000 for the damages caused to them on account of the death of their child. Both the, defendants contended that the death was not due to the electric shock from the cross iron bar, but from some other source. Upon perusing the evidence produced by the plaintiffs as well as the defendants and also after hearing the independent witnesses viz., the experts from the Electricity Department, the trial Court came to the conclusion that the death was caused by the leakage of electricity in the cross iron bar and found that the second defendant as well as the third defendant viz., the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board were not liable and ordered the first defendant to pay an amount of Rs. 5000 to the plaintiffs, by judgment dt. 4-12-1975.
3. No appeal was filed by the plaintiffs against the decree exonerating completely defendants 2 and 3. Appeal was filed by the defendant No. 1. The lower appellate Court by judgment dt. 3rd December 1977, concurred with the findings and reasoning of the trial Court and dismissed the appeal. It is against that judgment that the present appeal is preferred.
4. The only point urged before me by the appellant is that he, as the owner of the building, is not liable in any manner when the accident occurred when the premises were in the possession of the tenant. For this proposition, he relied mainly on the principle applied in the English case Lane v. Cox, (1897) 1 QB 415. The proposition of law emerging out of that case is that person visiting the demised premises after the lessee had entered into possession cannot hold the lessor liable for injuries even from existing defects and they have to took to the lessee for any relief because it is he who was in entire custody of the building.
5. The basic principle in matters of torts is that there should be a direct link between the tort caused and the person held liable. In the case Lane v. Cox, (1897) 1 QB 415, the landlord who lets an unfurnished house in a dangerous condition, he being under no obligation to keep it in repair, is not liable to his tenant, or to a person using the premises, for personal injuries happening during the term and due to the defective state of the house. This decision dt. 19th December 1896 is based on the contract between the lessor and the lessee as per which the lessor has no obligation to keep the building in good condition. Thus if the lessee has undertaken the responsibility to keep himself the building in safe condition, he is obviously alone responsible for any damages caused to the visitor. But, the fixation of liability as in the case of Lane v. Cox, would apply only if it is the respective obligation of lessor and lessee to keep in condition the premises is the same that is to say when the obligation to keep the building in safe condition lies on the shoulder of the lessee.
6. This has been also clearly explained in the book 'the Law of Torts' by S. Ramaswami Iyer, 6th Edn. 1965 page 383, which has been produced before me by the appellant himself. In para 21, under the head 'Negligence -Particular cases', the learned author after setting out the principle in Lane v. Cox, proceeds to say that this would be the ordinary rule, but that there may be exceptional cases where the lessor is liable. The first set of exceptions would be when the lessor has entered in to covenant to repair and his failure to perform it, results in bodily harm to the persons using the premises, then the learned author proceeds with the following sentences :-
'The cases in England which deny the lessor's liabilities in such a case, proceeds on the now exploded doctrine of privity and have ceased to have any authority now. They have now become obsolete in England - and it is suggested also in India - after the Occupiers' Law Act 1937 Sec. 4(l), which casts on the landlord of premises the same duty of care to persons lawfully in the premises as if he had invited or permitted them to use the premises in respect of damages created by his failure to perform the terms of the contract with his tenant for the maintenance or repair on his premises.'
Therefore, the proposition of law contained in Lane v. Cox is not of universal application. It would apply only in cases where the owner of the building has no obligation to keep the building in safe condition. The appellant has not shown that it was so in this case. The accident resulted out of an electric current shock. The entire wiring system was done by the appellant owner. He was responsible for its maintenance in good condition. After the accident, it is to her that the Assistant Engineer addressed a notice directing her to proceed with the entire rewiring system in her premises, under Ex. B.3. As per Ex. B. 2, namely the report of the Electrical Accident, the cause of the accident is shown to be as follows : -
'due to leakage of current in the consumer premises, the casualty who came in contact with cross iron bar in the betel nut shop, received heavy shock'.
Giving further details, the Assistant Engineer, Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, in Ex. B. 4, explained as follows:-
'On further investigation it was found that zinc sun shade in front of the shop has become live due to contact with live terminals of circuit wire leading to the tube light of the shop owned by another tenant Thiru Munivel of the same premises'.
It is, therefore, clear that it is from a default in electric connection leading to the shop different to the one leased out to defendant No. 2 that the leakage happened. Therefore, the defendant No. 2, that is to say, the lessee was in no manner concerned in this accident and the entirety of the responsibility falls on the owner, who was sole in charge of the electric system in the premises. It is thus found that the proposition of law relied upon by the appellant has no application whatsoever to the facts of this case.
7. In the result the appeal fails and it is dismissed with costs. Costs only to the plaintiffs.
8. Appeal dismissed.