Strict liability is a type of civil liability which does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm. Under this legal principle, a plaintiff can hold an individual or entity liable for damages or losses without the need to prove intent or carelessness and this doctrine typically applies to circumstances which are inherently dangerous or hazardous.
This is different from other types of civil liability such as intentional torts or negligence where the plaintiff has to generally prove that the defendant was somehow at fault for the damages incurred by the plaintiff.
In strict liability cases, the fault of the defendant is not an issue but it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that injuries or damages occurred and that they occurred because of the inherently dangerous or hazardous actions of the defendant.
The three main types of strict liability are ownership and possession of animals, abnormally dangerous activities and products liability.
The three categories of animals subject to strict liability are:
- Livestock: This refers to animals which are generally kept as assets rather than pets and the owner is liable for any physical harm or damages which are caused by their animals’ intrusion onto someone else’s property.
- Wild Animals: These refer to animals which have not been widely domesticated, regardless of how long the animal has lived in a captive environment. Someone who is in possession of a wild animal is liable if the animal harms someone else’s person or property, regardless of how much care the individual has taken to ensure that that the animal is confined to prevent it from doing harm.
- Dangerous Animals: These typically refer to a pet which the owner knows has dangerous or violent tendencies and the owner will be responsible for any injuries or damages caused by the animal.
While they seem similar, they do have different categories based on the nature of the ownership. Livestock are not expected to be locked in a steel cage, compared to a wild or dangerous animal that will need to be more securely held.
Individuals or entities who engage in abnormally dangerous or ultra-hazardous activities may be held strictly liable for any injuries or damages caused by the activity. A court will typically consider these elements to determine if something is an abnormally dangerous activity:
- If the activity involves a substantial risk of harming an individual or property?
- If the activity could not be performed without the risk of causing serious harm, regardless of how much care is taken to avoid it?
- If the activity is commonly engaged in by an average individual in the community?
Some examples of abnormally dangerous activities are:
- Storing explosives.
- Blasting or explosive demolition activities.
- Disposing hazardous chemical wastes.
- Production or containment of radioactive emissions.
- Using or transporting certain chemicals like combustibles or acids.
Another major category of strict liability is based on defective products. In order for someone to be successful in a products liability claim, they must prove that:
- There was a defect in the product when it left the defendant’s possession.
- The plaintiff was a foreseeable user of the product who used the product as it was intended.
- The plaintiff was injured by the use of the product.
- The injury was due to the product’s defective nature.
Manufacturers, distributors and retailers can all be held strictly liable because of the principle that consumers should not be injured without compensation just because they cannot prove who in the distribution chain was responsible for the defective product. The three main types of defects in products liability cases are:
- Manufacturing Defects: This refers to any irregularities or flaws in a product that was mass-produced. A manufacture is strictly liable for any damages or injuries which the defective product causes.
- Design Defects: This refers to cases where the entire product line is defective because of faulty design and the manufacturer will be strictly liable for the injuries and damages due to the design of the product. If there was a cost-effective way to redesign the product to make it safe but the manufacturer did not utilize this design, then the manufacturer can also be held responsible for any foreseeable injuries which occurred due to the design defects.
- Failure to Warn: A product manufacturer also has to warn consumers of any inherent but not obvious dangers of using the product.
Strict liability cases might seem fairly cut and dry, as either the defendant is liable or not. More than likely they seem like they would be held liable. But it’s not always that clear.
If you are suing or being sued in a strict liability case, it is important to consult with a local personal injury attorney who can represent you in court if necessary.