Strict Liability Tort Defenses

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 What is Strict Liability?

Strict liability is a doctrine in law which holds a party responsible for their products or actions without requiring the plaintiff to prove negligence or fault. This applies when an individual engages in an ultrahazardous activities, such as:

  • Keeping wild animals;
  • Abnormally dangerous activities, which includes the use of explosives; or
  • Making defective products.

Wild animals that are subject to strict liability include:

  • Livestock, generally those kept as assets not pets;
  • Wild animals which have not been widely domesticated, regardless if the animal has lived in a captive environment; and
  • Dangerous animals, such as a pet known to have violent tendencies.

Some examples of abnormally dangerous or ultrahazardous activities include:

  • Storing explosives;
  • Blasting or explosive demolition activities;
  • Disposing hazardous chemical wastes;
  • Production or containment of radioactive emissions; and
  • Using or transporting certain chemicals such as acids or combustibles.

Retailers, distributors, and manufacturers can be held strictly liable for defective products. The three main types of defects in cases that involve product liability include:

  • Manufacturing defects;
  • Design defects; and
  • Failure to warn.

If an individual is engaging in these activities, they may be held liable if another individual is injured. Even if they took the necessary precautions and followed any safety requirements, strict liability crimes still hold the defendant responsible. Because of the nature of these types of activities, a defendant should be able to foresee that an individual could be harmed by them.

Pursuant to the legal principle of strict liability, a plaintiff can hold an entity or individual liable for losses or damages without needing to prove carelessness or intent. This is in contrast to other types of civil liability including negligence or intentional torts where a plaintiff has to prove that a defendant was somehow at fault for damages which were incurred by the plaintiff.

In a strict liability case, the fault of a defendant is not at issue. However, it is necessary for a plaintiff to prove that there were injuries or damages which occurred and that those injuries or damages occurred because of the hazardous or inherently dangerous actions of the defendant.

What Must the Plaintiff Prove to Win a Strict Liability Case?

In order to successfully prove a strict liability case, a plaintiff must show:

  • Proof of injury;
  • That the defendant’s actions or product caused the injury or damages; and
  • That the activities of the defendant were unreasonably hazardous or that the defendant had control over the product.

What are Strict Liability Tort Defenses?

Strict liability is a legal concept that holds a defendant liable for harm that is caused by their activities or products regardless of fault. In many cases that involve strict liability, a defendant is required to pay damages to a plaintiff based on their violation of a law, even if the defendant was not negligent in their actions or if the defendant had any intent to cause harm to a plaintiff.

There are, however, still defenses which may be available to a defendant in a strict liability action.

What are Examples of Strict Liability Tort Defenses?

It is important to note that the availability of each defense depends on the facts of the case. For example, contributory negligence is not a defense to strict liability unless a plaintiff was aware of the risks that were involved and knowingly and unreasonably put themselves in harm’s way.

There are also other traditional defenses which may be available, including:

  • Assumption of the risk;
  • Comparative fault; and
  • Misuse or abuse of the product.

Assumption of the risk occurs when a plaintiff knows of and voluntarily assumes the risks associated with an abnormally dangerous activity or a product, such as consuming a medication while being aware of the side effects. In other words, a plaintiff consented to being harmed by a defendant. If a plaintiff engages in an ultra-hazardous activity, they can be barred from receiving any monetary compensation from a defendant.

Comparative fault is a legal concept which focuses on a plaintiff’s actions. If a plaintiff is involved in causing their own harm, a court will reduce the amount of damages which is awarded to a plaintiff in accordance with the percentage of harm which was self-inflicted.

An example of comparative fault occurs when a plaintiff deliberately crosses a street that they were not supposed to and was subsequently hit by a car going over the speed limit. The court will reduce the damages awarded to compensate them for their injuries because they were responsible for putting themselves into the position to be injured.

The misuse or abuse of a product means that the plaintiff used the item in a manner for which it was not intended or a manner in which could not have been reasonably foreseen. In these cases, a defendant is not responsible for a plaintiff’s injury.

An example of the misuse of a product would occur if a plaintiff utilized a toilet bowl cleaner to add flavoring to their soup and, as a result, suffered from food poisoning. The toilet bowl cleaner manufacturer would not be held liable for the actions of the plaintiff because the cleaner was not intended to be consumed as a food product. In addition, it is not reasonably foreseeable that any individual would voluntarily consume the cleaner as part of their meal.

An example of the abuse of a product would occur if a plaintiff used a bowl in a microwave despite the bowl manufacturer’s warning that the bowl was not microwave safe. If the bowl falls apart and causes the plaintiff to suffer third degree burns, because the injury was caused by an abuse of the product, the plaintiff may not recover.

When are Manufacturers not Held Liable for Product Related Injuries?

In certain cases, a manufacturer may not be held fully liable for a product injury because of the chain of supply. For example, suppose a baby food company creates a formula. Baby food is one of the most strictly regulated types of manufacturers.

Suppose that company safely packages and ships the formula and that the formula is safe to eat without any dangers when it leaves the manufacturer. Now, suppose when the store selling the formula stocked it, they placed it in an environment where it was badly torn, damaged, and infected with a harmful substance, such as botulism, which made the formula deadly.

In this example, it is clear that the baby food manufacturer did not make any mistakes and that their product was safe for consumers. In this case, the store caused the damage and illness, and, therefore, the store will be more likely to be held liable than the manufacturer.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Strict Liability Case?

It is essential to have the assistance of a tort lawyer for any strict liability case you may be involved in. Your attorney can review your case, advise you if there are any legal defenses available, and represent you during any court proceedings. If you are the individual who was injured, your lawyer can assist you in proving that you did not misuse or abuse a product.

Strict liability cases are some of the most challenging cases to defend. If you are the manufacturer, your lawyer can assist you with presenting defenses which may show the plaintiff was at fault for their own injuries.

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