Strict liability is a specific form of civil liability that is not dependent upon actual negligence or the intent to harm. Under this legal theory, an injured party may hold a person or entity liable for damages or losses without needing to prove carelessness or intent.
Strict liability is different from other types of civil liability including negligence or intentional torts, in which the plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant was at fault for the injuries suffered or damages incurred by the plaintiff. This doctrine generally applies to situations which are considered to be inherently hazardous or dangerous.
According to the doctrine of strict liability, even if a defendant takes necessary precautions and follows safety requirements, the defendant may still be held liable. This is because due to the nature of some activities, a defendant should have been able to foresee that another person could be harmed.
In a strict liability case, while the fault of a defendant is not at issue, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that injuries or damages did occur. They must also prove that these injuries or damages occurred due to the inherently hazardous or dangerous actions of the defendant. The three main categories of strict liability include:
- Ownership and possession of animals;
- Abnormally dangerous activities; and
- Product liability.
While the categories of strict liability may differ, they are the same in that they are dangerous and require a high degree of responsibility by an individual. An example of this would be how a person should be aware that owning a wild animal is inherently dangerous.
Ultrahazardous activities, which will be further discussed below, are generally conducted by a professional. An example of this would be rock blasting; it should be conducted by a professional who is required to have training on how to handle and use dangerous explosives.
According to the law, manufacturers have set themselves up to create and sell products which consumers should be able to trust and use without fear of injury. Failure could result in a strict liability claim.
What Is An Ultrahazardous Activity?
An ultrahazardous activity is defined as an act that is considered to be so inherently dangerous that the individual performing it may be held liable for injuries to other individuals, even if they take every reasonable step to prevent the injury. An ultrahazardous activity may also be known as an abnormally dangerous activity.
An ultrahazardous activity is classified as a strict liability tort, meaning that the individual performing the activity can be held liable even if they did not make any mistakes and took reasonable precautions to prevent harm.
In some cases, the term ultrahazardous activity can be used to describe high-risk, extreme recreational activities. Examples include cliff diving or skydiving. However, these activities are generally not included in a tort discussion because an individual must generally sign a liability waiver and a consent form prior to engaging in the activity.
Some of the most common examples of ultrahazardous activities include:
- The storage or use of explosives;
- Blasting or demolitions operations;
- Using, transporting, storing, and/or handling hazardous chemicals;
- Disposing nuclear or chemical wastes;
- Controlled burning of buildings or fields;
- Activities involving radioactive materials; and
- Certain types of product defects.
If a person who engages in an abnormally dangerous activity injures another person during the activity, they will be held liable even if they exercised reasonable care.
What Causes Scuba Diving Accidents?
Because scuba diving may sometimes be considered an ultra-hazardous activity, there are many reasons that scuba diving accidents occur. The most common example of this would be when people scuba dive when they are not physically ready to do so. As a result, they are unable to complete the necessary steps to preserving their safety while diving.
Deficient equipment is another common cause of scuba diving accidents; running out of oxygen, or using oxygen equipment that is poor in quality or defective, can result in a scuba diving injury as well.
Other common causes of scuba diving accidents include:
- Insufficient or poor scuba diving training;
- Scuba product or equipment failures;
- Interference from wildlife, animals, or other divers; and/or
- Miscommunications during dives.
In some cases of scuba accidents, such as interference from wild animals, no one can be held responsible for any occurring injuries. However, in cases in which the rented equipment failed, even though it was used properly, someone may typically be held responsible. Also, in cases when the lead diver was negligent and put the other divers in danger, it is likely that they may be held responsible.
Can I Sue For A Scuba Diving Accident?
Personal injury torts are generally filed on grounds of negligence. However, many scuba diver instructors and schools will require students and divers to sign a liability waiver before they dive. This releases the school or instructor from legal responsibility in the case of injury or accident, so that it is harder for a plaintiff to recover damages.
When assessing damages in a personal injury tort, courts and judges will consider assumption of risk by the plaintiff. What this means is that if the plaintiff assumes risk by knowingly engaging in a dangerous or risky activity, it will be difficult for them to collect damages.
Contributory or comparative negligence is a legal term that may be used when the plaintiff had some responsibility for the negligent conditions or circumstances that led to their injury. If a judge finds that comparative negligence is present, damages may be reduced or may not be awarded at all.
As was previously mentioned, if the plaintiff signed a release of liability waiver before sustaining injuries in a scuba diving accident, it will be considerably harder for them to collect damages. However, there are some conditions under which damages can be awarded even if a liability waiver was signed.
Because the contract or liability waiver must be legal and complete in order to fully protect the scuba diving instructor, a waiver that was not legally enforceable or complete could still produce a damages award. Additionally, minors cannot give consent or legally waive their assumption of risk on their own; as such, suits can be filed on their behalf, even if they signed a liability waiver. If the owner or instructor was negligent or grossly negligent, it could be possible to collect damages.
In some cases, the cause of a scuba diving injury is the negligence of a diving instructor. In order to prove negligence, the following elements must be met:
- Duty of Care: The diving instructor must first owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, generally being held to the same standards of care that an instructor with similar training, background, and certifications would be held to;
- Breach of Duty: It must then be shown that the instructor breached their duty of care owed to the plaintiff. An example of this would be if the instructor failed to properly run through the pre-dive safety checklist for a dive;
- Causation: It must be shown that the breach of duty was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. An example of this would be how if the diver failed to do a pre-dive check, and equipment failed as a result which caused injury to the student diver, they might be found liable for those injuries; and
- Damages: It must be shown that the instructor’s negligent conduct resulted in real, measurable damages to the plaintiff. This can generally be shown through hospital bills and other expenses resulting from the injury.
Gross negligence generally follows the same structure of proof; however, the instructor’s conduct must be particularly egregious or dangerous in order for gross negligence to be found. An example of this would be if the instructor knowingly provides oxygen tanks that are known to fail during a dive. In cases where a fatality occurred as the result of the defendant’s negligent conduct, wrongful death damages may also be applied as well.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With A Scuba Diving Lawsuit?
If you have been injured in a scuba diving accident, or if you need to defend yourself against a scuba diving lawsuit, you should consult with a personal injury attorney near you. Your personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.