Imagine Tobgay gets injured after the wall fell on him while walking along the footpath in Thimphu Town near city bus parking. If he is in most other countries, he can sue for millions. Here in Bhutan, there is no law protecting his economic rights.  However, the news of the proposal for possible enactment of a civil liability law may bring justice to Tobgay.  Civil liability law is also known as the law of Tort is to “provide relief to injured parties for harms caused by others, to impose liability on parties responsible for the harm, and to deter others from committing harmful acts” where the burden of proof can shift from the injured party to the party who is at fault.  

The civil liability law will ensure “individual justice, compensation for accidental injuries and it serves a variety of public policy goals at once, including economic efficiency, deterrence of risky activity, injury compensation, spreading the loss associated with injuries, and even social justice seriously injured individuals without compensation commensurate to the harm suffered.” Criminal law can only punish the violators but will not protect the victims economically and socially. Civil liability law will “secure compensation for economic losses due to personal injuries.”

For example, there are numerous reports on medical complications or even deaths possibly due to medical negligence. Even if such lapses can be proved, the only remedy currently available is to punish the doctors or health staff under the Medical Council Act and Regulations.  There is no accountability on the hospital or its management for their lapses such as not meeting required infrastructure or other necessary things to prevent such accidents or lapses.  Similarly, there are many accidents due to potholes including stories of an infant falling into manholes yet there is no compensation for any such accidents. The thromde and contractors escape with no liability whatsoever.  With more development, such accidents are more likely to happen. Contrary to us, for example, in the United States, Bayer Corporation, Roundup’s manufacturer company is $9.6 billion under product liability suits because they failed to inform the consumers on the associated risks of cancer while using Roundup products. In another case, a weathered utility pole fell on a lawyer causing brain-damaged and paralyzing him in 2017. The court awarded a $125 million settlement to be paid by Verizon. 

However, the enactment of such a law needs a thorough review of the existing laws. For example, the Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan 2012 already has a lot of components of civil liability, especially product liability. Similarly, the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) also contains several legal redressal provisions, including compensations in case of negligence and other forms of accidents. For example, the recent case of an electric pole accident is filed under the PCB. Road Safety and Transport Authority Act and Civil and Criminal Procedure Code also have provisions on such civil liabilities, including possible mass torts (class action suits), a group of victims suing some entities like thromde. 

Therefore, civil liability law is one that the legislators must not only support but also contribute to enacting it at the earliest. The numbers of accidents causing physical injuries and deaths are many to count causing enormous economic and physical harm, yet everyone escaped. This can be prevented if relevant entities exercise due diligence. Therefore, civil liability law has become urgent and necessary. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.