Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offences affecting life. Causing death by negligence is considered as an offence under Section 304A which is covered under Chapter XVI. Section 304A was inserted in Indian Penal Code through the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1870. Section 12 of the Amendment Act introduced Section 304A of IPC.
Accidents are always unexpected events. The provision under Section 304A provides protection in cases of such unexpected instances which results in the death of a person. But the condition for the application of this provision is that the death caused should be outside the ambit of knowledge of the accused.
In the case of Shankar Narayan Bhandolkar v. State of Maharashtra[i], the Supreme Court held that the protection under Section 304A is encompassed where the accused neither had intention nor had knowledge of causing death.
Essentials of offence under Section 304A-
An offence of causing death by negligence is committed when the following essentials are present in the offence-
1. Accused causes death of a person
2. The death is caused by doing any rash or negligent act
3. The act committed should not amount to culpable homicide.
In the case of State of Gujarat v. Haidarali[ii], the Court considered the facts where the truck driver while taking a turn in the open field hits a cot and causes the death of a person who was sleeping on the cot and decided that the death so caused by the truck driver is an offence under section 304A of IPC. The Apex Court held that, the truck driver in the instant case was rash and negligent while taking turn, as he caused the death of the person resting on the cot without the knowledge of committing such act. Therefore, the act committed is considered a homicide by negligence and cannot be termed as a culpable homicide.
Death caused by rash or negligent act-
Application of the provision provided under section 304A is made where the death caused is due to rash or negligent act of the accused. The rash or negligent act committed by the accused must be the direct and proximate cause for the death of the victim. The Courts in various cases have opined that in cases falling under this section, it is dangerous to attempt to distinguish between the approximate and ultimate cause of death[iii]. The ‘rash and negligent’ act mentioned under this section must be the immediate cause of death and should not be the remote cause of death[iv].
Cases describing rash and negligent acts-
In the case of Juggankhan v. State of Madhya Pradesh[v], the Supreme Court discussed the facts where a Homoeopathic practitioner administered to a patient suffering from guinea worm with a drug which was poisonous without studying the effect of such drug and caused the death of the patient. The Court held the accused guilty under section 304A as the negligence of the accused was evident through his act of administering the drug without studying the effect of such administration.
In the case of Cherubin Gregory v. State of Bihar[vi], the Supreme Court held that where the accused has set a naked live electric wire in the passage to avoid trespassers but there is no warning board as to the same. Then, the accused is guilty under section 304A if any trespasser manages to enter the premises without touching the wire and happens to touch the wire while coming out of the premises and dies immediately after receiving shock. The court considered that it is the duty of the person who sets such dangerous obstacles to stop the trespassers to notify the same by displaying a board near the premises.
Actions of the accused not amounting to culpable homicide-
The provision under section 304A clarifies that the offence of causing death by rash or negligent act shall not be considered as culpable homicide. In Arun v. State of Madhya Pradesh[vii], the High Court of Madhya Pradesh distinguished between the offence of culpable homicide as defined under section 299 of IPC and offence of causing death by rash or negligent act as provided for under section 304A.
The court observed that one of the essentials in cases of culpable homicide is that the intention of causing bodily injury or committing the act with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death. But in case of offence under section 304A the death should have been caused without intention or knowledge of the accused[viii].
Therefore, the offence under section 304A which is a result of rash or negligent act of the accused must be committed without any intention to cause such an offence and also the accused must have no knowledge that his act would cause death of the victim.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the punishment for an offence under section 304A?
Section 304A prescribes punishment of imprisonment of a term which may extend to 2 years or fine or both.
How is the offence under section 304A classified?
The offence of causing death by negligence is classified as cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable offence.
Does the doctrine of contributory negligence apply in cases under section 304A?
The Doctrine of contributory negligence has no applicability in cases of criminal liability. Therefore, in cases under section 304A, the plea of contributory negligence cannot be adduced by the accused as a defence.
Edited by Sakshi Agarwal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] AIR 2004 SC 1966.
[ii] AIR 1976 SC 1012.
[iii]Khanmahomed, (1936) 38 Bom LR 1111.
[iv] Akbar Ali, (1936) 12 Luck 336.
[v]AIR 1965 SC 831.
[vi] AIR 1964 SC 205
[vii]Cr. R. No. 4869/2018.
[viii]Arun v. State of Madhya Pradesh, Cr. R. No. 4869/2018.