Volenti non fit injuria

Mahima Gherani

Volenti non fit injuria is a Latin term which means “to one who is willing, no harm is done.” This doctrine holds that a person who knowingly and willingly puts himself in a dangerous situation cannot later on sue for any resulting injuries. Volenti non fit injuria is a defence in tort. If a person engages in an event accepting and being totally aware of the risks inherent in that event, then such person cannot later complain of, or seek compensation for an injury suffered during the event.

For example you invite somebody to your house you cannot sue him for trespass. For the defence to be valid it is necessary that the consent was obtained voluntarily by the plaintiff and there was no undue influence, misrepresentation or fraud involved. In the case of R v. Williams the defendant was a singing coach. He told one of his pupils that he was performing an act to open her air passages to improve her singing but he was actually having sexual intercourse with her. It was held that her consent was vitiated by fraud. This case has been used to illustrate the validity of a consent which has been obtained by unfair means.

In Lakshmi Rajan v. Malar Hospital (1998), a woman consented for a surgery to remove a lump from her breast. But the hospital removed her uterus without any genuine reason. It was held that removing of her uterus exceeded beyond what she had consented for and thus the hospital was held liable for the deficiency of service. In another instance, if a servant was compelled by the master to do a certain task despite his protests, and if he is injured while doing it, the master cannot take the defence of volenti non fit injuria because the consent was not free. For the defence to be valid it is necessary that the consent was obtained voluntarily by the plaintiff and there was no undue influence, misrepresentation or fraud involved. The defence of volenti non fit injuria requires a freely entered and voluntary agreement by the claimant, in full knowledge of the circumstances, to absolve the defendant of all legal consequences of their actions.

For the defence to be available, the act causing the harm must go beyond the limit of what has been consented. The two essentials that are to be satisfied are

  • The injured knew that there was a risk in the act
  • Knowingly there was a risk that he invited

In Khimji V. Tanga Mombasa Transport Co. Ltd the plaintiffs were the personal representatives of a deceased who met his death while travelling as a passenger in the defendant’s bus. The bus reached a place where road was flooded and it was risky to cross. The driver was reluctant to continue the journey but some of the passengers, including the deceased, insisted that the journey should be continued. The driver eventually yielded and continued with some of the passengers, including the deceased. The bus drowned with all the passengers aboard. It was held that the plaintiff’s action against the defendants could not be maintained because the deceased knew the risk involved and assumed it voluntarily and so the defence of volenti non fit injuria rightly applied.

Also the plaintiff should have complete knowledge of the full nature and extent of risk involved before giving consent. In Woolridge v. Sumner (1963), the plaintiff a photographer was taking photographs at a horse show, during which one horse rounded the bend was too fast. As the horse galloped furiously, the plaintiff was frightened and fell in the course. He was seriously injured, and it was held that the defendants had taken proper care in closing the course and the plaintiff, by being in the show, agreed to take the risk of such an accident, so the defendants were not liable and this defence cannot apply.

So, the conventional understanding about the plea of volenti non fit injuria is that it is an affirmative defence to liability arising in the tort of negligence.