by Krishna Pallavi

When a plaintiff’s right is infringed, he can file a suit against the defendant in a court. But what if the act of the plaintiff itself is unlawful? What is the scene in this case? How will the defendant be saved? In such cases, the defence of “plaintiff the wrongdoer” is at rescue.

This is an established principle under Law of Contracts, where it is stated that ‘No person will aid a person who found his cause of action upon an immoral or illegal act’. Similarly, in Torts, the legal maxim “Ex turpi causa non oritur action” means ‘from an immoral cause no action arises.’

In simple words, it means that when the plaintiff act is unlawful, then it might turn into a defence for the defendant. Therefore, the present defence is based on the above maxim.

To understand this, let us consider the following example:

The plaintiff in order to protect his land from trespassers put electric wires around his boundaries. However, he did not put any notice about the same. A person tries to enter into his land and therefore gets injured due to the electric wiring. In such case, the defence of plaintiff the wrongdoer can be claimed, as the plaintiff in this case has failed to give notices of the electric wiring and has used unreasonable force to protect his land.

Now, you might ask me, isn’t the defendant also liable for the act of trespass? Why is the defendant escaping from his liability? Yes. You are right.

What this defence actually states is, the mere act of the plaintiff being at fault does not disentitle him from claiming the injuries caused to him by the defendant. What the plaintiff is expected to do is, answer to the wrongful act that he was subject to.

Therefore, what exactly happens in the defence of plaintiff the wrongdoer is that, the plaintiff is answerable to the unlawful act that he has done but is not disabled from filing a suit on the defendant by the injuries caused by him.

So, in the above case, the plaintiff can be only held liable to the unlawful act of placing an electric wire without a notice. Therefore, the defendant will be liable for the act of trespassing, but will be able to get compensation for his injuries.

In order to determine the applicability of the defence, what is also to be seen is the connection between the plaintiff’s wrongful act and the harm suffered by him. Therefore, if the plaintiff’s act is the actual cause of the harm suffered then he will not have any cause of action/ claim.

To understand this, let us consider the following example:

A bridge, which was under the control of the defendant gives away due to the passage of the plaintiff’s overloaded truck through it. There was a warning sign on the condition of the bridge. Therefore, despite knowing the condition of the bridge, the plaintiff allowed his overloaded truck to pass on it.

Therefore, in the above case the plaintiff’s action was the determining action for the harm suffered by him. If he would have taken a normal loaded truck, he would have not caused any injuries. Therefore, the defence can be claimed by the defendant.

Looking at it the other way round, if the defendant’s act is the determining cause for the harm suffered to the plaintiff, then this defence cannot come at his rescue.

In order to understand this, let us take the above example with a little twist in it:

A bridge was ill-maintained by the defendant. There were various complains about it but nothing has been done to its effect. One day the plaintiff’s truck, which was not loaded, was passing through the bridge and the bridge happened to give away. In this case, unlike the above, the defendant’s act is the determining act of the harm suffered by the plaintiff. Therefore, the plaintiff can undoubtedly claim damages from the defendant for the injury caused by him.

To understand this defence even more clearly, let us understand two scenarios with the help of the following flow-chart.

Scenario 1

Plaintiff is the wrongdoer

The act of the plaintiff is independent to the harm suffered by him

Defence is not maintainable


Scenario 2

Plaintiff is the wrongdoer

The act of the plaintiff is the reason for the harm suffered to him


Defence is maintainable

In conclusion, just because the plaintiff is at fault does not disable him from claiming compensation from the defendant. What has to be proved by the defendant in order to claim this defence is, the act of the plaintiff was the determining cause of the harm suffered by him.

Also, the other aspect to this defence is Contributory Negligence, in which the plaintiff is partly responsible for the harm caused to him, along with the defendant.


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