Strict liability is a form of civil liability which is not dependent upon actual negligence or the intent to harm. Under this legal theory, an injured party, or a plaintiff, may hold an individual 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 where a plaintiff is typically required to prove that the defendant was at fault for the injuries suffered or damages incurred by the plaintiff. This doctrine typically applies in situations which are inherently hazardous or dangerous.
According to the doctrine of strict liability, even if a defendant takes necessary precautions and follows safety requirements, strict liability is unique in that the defendant may still be held liable. Due to the nature of some activities, a defendant should have been able to foresee that another individual could be harmed.
What are the Different Types of Strict Liability?
In a strict liability case, the fault of a defendant is not an issue. However, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that injuries or damages did occur and that they 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, the shared theme among them is that they are dangerous and require a high degree of responsibility by an individual. For example, an individual should be aware that a wild animal is inherently dangerous.
In addition, an ultrahazardous activity, such as blasting, is obviously dangerous. It is typically conducted by a professional who is required to have training on how to handle and use dangerous explosives.
Product manufacturers are in a unique position of earning and keeping the trust of the public. In the eyes of 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.
What is Strict Liability Based on Ownership and Possession of Animals?
There are three main categories of animals which are subject to strict liability. These include:
- Wild animals; and
- Dangerous animals.
Livestock refers to animals that are generally kept as assets rather than as pets and their owners are liable for any physical harm or damages which are caused by the animals’ intrusion onto another individual’s property.
Wild animals refer to animals which have not been widely domesticated, regardless of how long that animal has lived in a captive environment. An individual who is in possession of an exotic animal is liable if that animal harms another individual or their property, regardless of how much care the owner has taken to ensure that the animal is confined to prevent it from doing any harm.
Dangerous animals typically refers to a pet which the owner is aware has dangerous or violent tendencies. The owner will be liable for any injuries or damages which are caused by this type of animal.
Although these animals may seem similar, they have different categories based on the nature of their ownership. For example, livestock are not expected to be locked inside a steel cage, whereas a wild or dangerous animal may need to in order to be more securely held.
What is Strict Liability Based on Abnormally Dangerous Activities?
Entities or individuals who engage in abnormally dangerous or ultrahazardous activities can be held strictly liable for any injuries or damages which are caused by that activity. Courts will typically consider the following elements in order to determine if an activity is an abnormally dangerous activity:
- Does the activity involve a substantial risk of harming an individual or property?;
- Whether the activity could not be performed without the risk of causing serious harm, regardless of how much care is taken to avoid it?; and
- Does an average individual in the community commonly engage in the activity?
Examples of abnormally dangerous activities may include:
- Storing explosives;
- Blasting or explosive demolition activities;
- Disposing hazardous chemical wastes;
- Production or containment of radioactive emissions; and
- Using or transporting chemicals such as acids or combustibles.
What is Product Liability?
Product liability is a category of strict liability which is based on defective products. In order for an individual to prevail in a products liability claim, they are required to show:
- There was a defect in the product when the product left the defendant’s possession;
- The plaintiff was a foreseeable user of the product and utilized the product as it was intended;
- The plaintiff was injured by the use of the product; and
- The injury was due to the defective nature of the product.
Retailers, distributors, and manufacturers may all be held strictly liable in a product liability case due to the principle that a consumer should not be injured without compensation simply because they are unable to prove which party in the distribution chain was responsible for the defective product.
There are three main categories of defects in product liability cases. These include:
- Manufacturing defects;
- Design defects; and
- A failure to warn.
A manufacturing defect is a flaw or irregularity in a product which was mass-produced. Manufacturers are strictly liable for any injuries or damages which are caused by the defective product.
A design defect occurs when an entire product line is defective due to a faulty design. Manufacturers are strictly liable for injuries and damages due to design defects in their products.
In addition, if a cost effective solution to redesign the defective product existed that would have made the product safe and the manufacturer did not utilize this design, then the manufacturer can also be held liable for any foreseeable injuries which occurred due to the design defect or defects.
A failure to warn occurs when a manufacturer does not warn consumers of an inherent but not obvious danger of using the product. This is typically accomplished by a warning label on the product’s packaging.
When is a Manufacturer not Liable for Product Related Injuries?
There are cases in which a manufacturer may not be held fully liable for injuries due to a chain of supply issue. For example, if a baby food company created a formula and safely packaged and shipped that formula, it is safe to consume.
If, however, the store that stocked the formula placed it in an environment where it became damaged, torn, and infected with botulism or another harmful substance which may cause the formula to be deadly, it is likely the store will be held liable and not the manufacturer.
In most cases, a manufacturer who exhausts all measures to ensure their products are safe and forewarns consumers of any possible dangers associated with the products, will be able to limit itself from potential liability.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
It is essential to have the assistance of a personal injury attorney for any product liability issues you may have. A strict liability case may seem cut and dry, such as is the defendant liable or not. It may seem that a defendant would be held liable, but it is not always so clear.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if you have a strict liability claim, and represent you during any court proceedings should a lawsuit be necessary. It is important to consult with your attorney as soon as possible, as there is a statute of limitations which may apply to your claim.