Personal safety and security as well as security to liberty and property is of maximal importance to any individual. The State, regardless of the ideology or governmental form, aims and designs certain systems of penal laws in order to maintain law and order. The Indian sub-continent retains the Indian Penal Code of 1860 as a part of penal laws prevalent in the State. The Indian Penal Code punishes perpetrators of undesired, harmful human conducts which pose as a threat to the society. Such undesired, unlawful and harmful conducts termed as crime is “an offence against the public and renders the person guilty of the act or default liable to legal punishment.”[1]

The word ‘Accident’ has been derived from a Latin word, ‘Accidere’, which means befall or happen. The word spreads the idea of unexpected and fortuitous act.[2] Nature of Accidents can be either tortious or criminal. Tortious accidents relate to incidents of crime against an individual; however, criminal liability of accidents are drawn when the act of crime is a wrongdoing against the society and is thus, endangered. Depending on the nature of the crime, i.e., criminal or tortious, defenses provides for the crime differ. Acts, which on the periphery as well as on the foundation have an impact on the society as a whole, draws criminal liability and are thus a punishable offence.


The Indian Penal Code recognises various offences and provides defences under section 76-106. Defences are generally classified into justifiable and excusable defences. The defence of ‘accident’ comes under excusable exception. Section 80 of the Indian Penal Code accounts for the exemption of individual from the liability drawn from an act done accidently, i.e., without knowledge or any criminal intention. The section states –

Accident in doing a lawful act – Nothing is an offence which us done by accident or misfortune, and without any criminal intention or knowledge in the doing of a lawful act in a lawful manner by lawful means and with proper care and caution.”[3]

This section differentiates between accidents involving criminal intention and unlawfulness from fortuitous acts and shields the doer of lawful, innocent act. Section 80 provides exemption to acts done lawfully and without knowledge or any criminal intention if the performance of the act involved exercising due care and caution. According to Stephen, “An unexpected is said to be accident when the act by which it is caused is not done with intention of causing it and when its occurrence as a consequences of such act is not so probable that a person of ordinary prudence ought under the circumstances In which it is done, to take reasonable precaution against it. Both the words accident and misfortune imply injury to another. Accident involve injury to another, misfortune implies as much injury to the author as to another unconnected with the act.”[4]

The term ‘misfortune’ is similar to the term ‘accident’ but it involves unexpectedness as well as unwelcomeness. Both the terms are use imply the sense of injury to another? The point of distinction between the twain is that the injury caused by misfortune has impact on the individual performing the act as well as another, whereas, injury caused by an accident affects others only and not the performer of the act. Accident and Misfortune, thus, relate to an “unexpected and unintended act” resulting in injury to another.[5]

Essential ingredients which make accidents and misfortunes an exonerating factor

An accident turn into an exonerating factor when: firstly, the incident was purely an accident or misfortune; secondly, there is absence of any criminal intention or knowledge; thirdly, the act is lawful, performed in a lawful manner and by lawful means; fourthly, the performance of the act involved exercising of proper care and caution.[6] If the act fails to meet any of the above mentioned ingredients, it cannot be pardoned on the grounds on accident.[7]

The act needs to be performed in the absence of criminal intention or knowledge, i.e., it needs to in the absence of guilty mind or mens rea. If the doer or the performer of the act has the knowledge, then the act/ incident fails to be termed as an accident. This section, thus, incorporates accidental injuries caused in games and sports as held in the case of Tunda v. Rex.[8] The case was filed under Section 304A of IPC, i.e., Death by Negligence. However, the act was held unintentional and accidental and thus, the judgment was given under sections and 80 and 87 of IPC, i.e., an act which was not intended or known “to cause death or grievous hurt, done by consent.”[9] In an act performed on the basis of a “bona fide impression” received by an individual, leading to an injury (death) to another is purely an accident and the act is within the scope of Section 80 of IPC.[10] An act performed deliberately is not accidental and the accused cannot benefit from the section.[11] The protection provided under Section 80 are applicable only to lawful acts, performed in a lawful manner, by lawful means. Acts lacking lawfulness are not considered within the scope of this section.[12]

The accidental act ought to have been done by exercising sufficient care and caution. Sufficient care relates to the care taken by an individual which is considered adequate by “a prudent and reasonable man”. Sufficient and adequate care and caution according to reasonable man standards are a “primordial requirements” of the acts performed under Section 80. [[13]] In the case of Sita Ram v. State of Rajasthan[[14]], it was held that injuries caused due to the act of the accused cannot be incorporated in Section 80 as it lacked care and caution, and was an act negligence. The accused was thus convicted under Section 304A of IPC.


Section 81 embodies the principle which exempts individuals’ acts which cause injury to another but was done in order avert other perils. The section states –

Act likely to cause harm, but done without criminal intent, and to prevent other harm. – Nothing is an offence merely by reason of its being done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause harm, if it be done without any criminal intention to cause harm, and in good faith for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to person or property.”[15]

The genesis section emanates two maxims – quod necessitas non habet legem, i.e., necessity knows no law, and necessitas vincit legem, i.e., necessity overcomes the law. The principle of this section highlights the Doctrine of Necessity. Necessity, in legal language, incorporates the judgement “that the evil of obeying the letter of law is socially greater in the particular circumstances than the evil of breaking it.”[[16]], i.e., the law ought to be broken in order to achieve the greater good.[17] It is apposite to note that though there is no specification of “greater evil and lesser evil”, the section works effectively in favour of “lesser evil.”[18]

Immunity from criminal liability, provided under Section 81, is only available for acts which are done in the absence of criminal intention and in good faith, so as to prevent harm to person or property. The Explanation to this section states, “It is a question of face in such a case whether the harm to be prevented or avoided was of such a nature and so imminent as to justify or excuse the risk of doing the act with the knowledge that it was likely to cause harm.”[19] The provision of immunity under the section thus depends from case to case on the basis of facts and the risk involved. In the case of Re Ramaswamy Ayyar,[20] the court held that act of restraining a drunkard was in good faith so as to protect the villagers from breach of peace. The judgement was further upheld in the case of Gopal Naidu v. Emperor,[21] wherein a drunkard carrying a revolver was suppressed by police officers though the offence of public nuisance is non-cognizable according to the punishment stated under Section 290 of IPC.


The defence of ‘accident’ under Indian Penal Code is “equivalent to inadvertence without culpability.”[22] However, a general perspective does not allow necessity as a defence in charges of murder.[23] Acts of self-defence are not same as acts of necessity, though the twain overlap each other. Private defences are applied against aggressors only. Acts of necessity do not necessarily involve aggressors or wrongdoers. Private defences do not involve “balancing of values.”[24] In the case of United States v. Holmes,[25] the accused ordered 16 of his crewmates to jump of the ship fearing shipwreck. He was thus charged of manslaughter and imprisoned. Later, the English case of R v. Dudley and Stephens[26] laid down certain principles – Firstly, “self-preservation is not an absolute necessity”; secondly, “no person has the right to take another’s life to preserve his own”; thirdly, “there is no necessity that justifies homicide.”[27] According to 42nd Law Commission report on Indian Penal Code, Section 81 should amended to dissolve any ambiguity and to explicitly state that the “latter harm is of such a nature and so imminent as to justify or excuse the risk of doing the act with such knowledge.”[28]


Sections 80 and 81 are analogous as the former deals with accidental acts and the latter deals with inevitable accidents. However, the stipulated extent and nature of mens rea differs in the two sections. Section 80 specifically includes the terms “without criminal intention or knowledge” whereas Section 81 uses “without criminal intention” only as the section deals with contemplation of a situation where the ‘knowledge’ already exists. Although, there is a thin line between intention and knowledge, it is not difficult to distinguish between the two as they connote disparate ideas.[29] Thus, although in certain cases knowledge in sufficient to establish mens rea, Section 81 requires existence of both knowledge and criminal intention.


Sections 80 & 81 of the Indian Penal Code account for the accidental acts of crime. The purpose of the legislation is to work for benefit of the public. These shield innocents from erroneous convictions. The above mentioned sections require the establishment of evidential prima facie guilt in order to pin accountability. Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that if the alleged individual’s act was an accident with any criminal intention, then the burden of proof lies on that person to establish the case under general exception of Section 80 of IPC. To claim the defence of accident, the individual (or defendant) needs to prove the absence of both, criminal intent and criminal negligence, beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, Sections 80 & 81 take the form of an opportunity as they are incorporated under pardonable general exceptions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Author(s) Name: Utkarsha Singh (OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat)


[1] Halsbury’s Laws of England (5th edn, LexisNexis 2013) 271

[2] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 87

[3] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 80

[4] R. M. J., “Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law. Ninth Edition. By Lewis Frederick Sturge, of the Inner and Middle Temples and the Midland Circuit, Barrister-at-Law. [London: Sweet & Maxwell, Ltd. 1950.]” (1951) 11 The Cambridge Law Journal

[5] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 88

[6] Atmendra v State of Karnataka AIR 1998 SC 1985

[7] Sukhdev Singh v Delhi State (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi) (2003) 7 SCC 441

[8] Tunda v Rex AIR 1950 All 95

[9] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 87

[10] State Government of Madhya Pradesh v Rangaswamy AIR 1952 Ngp 268

[11] Sukhdev Singh v Delhi State (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi) (2003) 7 SCC 441

[12] Karali Bauri v Subhas Das Musib (1983) Cr LJ 1474 (Cal)

[13] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 90

[14] Sita Ram v State of Rajasthan (1998) Cr LJ 287 (Raj)

[15] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 81

[16] Glanville Williams, Textbook of Criminal Law (2nd edn, Steven & Sons, London 1983) 597

[17] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 91

[18] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 92

[19] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 81

[20] In Re: Ramaswamy Ayyar AIR 1921 Mad 458

[21] Gopal Naidu v Emperor AIR 1923 Mad 523

[22] John Dawson Mayne, The Criminal Law of India (2nd edn, Higginbothams Ltd. 1901) 394

[23] Glanville Williams, Textbook of Criminal Law (2nd edn, Steven & Sons, London 1983) 604

[24] Glanville Williams, Textbook of Criminal Law (2nd edn, Steven & Sons, London 1983) 603

[25] United States v Holmes 26 Fed Cas 360 (1842) (Circuit Court, Eastern District, Pennsylvania)

[26] R v Dudley and Stephens [1884] 14 QBD 273

[27] K.I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (14th edn, LexisNexis 2021) 93

[28] Law Commission of India, “Forty-Second Report: Indian Penal Code”, Government of India, 1971.

[29] Basdev v State of Pepsu AIR 1951 All 500

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