Under criminal law, strict liability crimes are actions that are considered to be criminal regardless of the person’s intentions. Defendants for strict liability crimes will be convicted even if they were not aware that their actions were criminal and even if they had no criminal intent.
In tort law, strict liability imposes liability on a party without a finding of fault. This is in contrast to claims against a party for negligence or tortious intent. The party making a strict liability claim need only prove that the tort occurred and that the defendant was responsible.
There are many different types of strict liability crimes. Examples of strict liability crimes are the following:
- Statutory rape. Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a minor. Statutory rape laws make it illegal for anyone to have sexual intercourse with a minor regardless of intent and regardless of whether it was consensual. Additionally, even if the offender believed that his or her partner was of legal age, if they were not, the offender is guilty of statutory rape. One does not need to intend to have sexual intercourse with a minor to be found guilty of statutory rape.
- Selling Alcohol to Minors. A person who sells alcohol to a minor can be convicted even if they had a belief that the person was old enough to buy alcohol.
- Traffic Offenses. Most traffic offenses are strict liability crimes. For example, one will get a speeding ticket even if the ticketed person did not believe they were speeding or believed they were driving within the speed limit.
In tort law, as stated above, a defendant is held fully liable for any injury sustained by another party regardless of whether the injury was intended. Strict liability categories in tort law include the following:
Animals: The owner or person in possession of certain types of animals is liable for injuries if the animal causes injury to another person or animal. This includes livestock such as cows, horses, bulls or goats. Abnormally dangerous animals also fall under this category and include snakes, tigers, monkeys or bears. If a person is in possession of a wild animal and that animal causes injury, liability is assumed.
Product Liability: When a person is injured or suffers other damages because of a product used, the lawsuit is called a product liability claim. In order to win a product liability suit you must prove that you were injured or suffered some damage, that the product involved in your case was somehow defective or lacked proper warning, and that the defect was the cause of your injuries. There are three primary types of product defects:
- Design Defect. A design defect occurs when the product is unsafe and it was designed that way.
- Manufacturing Defect. A product has a manufacturing defect if the product’s design is sound but the method of making the product is unsafe. An example of this would be where a desk is assembled in a factory but is missing important screws which maintain its integrity for continuous use by the customer.
- Warning Defect. A warning defect is found when a product does not have sufficient instructions or warnings about its use and a person is injured as a result.
Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Abnormally dangerous activities are those activities that carry a substantial risk to oneself and others’ personal property and physical being. There are essential elements required for a defendant to be held strictly liable for engaging in an ultra hazardous activity. Whether an activity is ultra hazardous is a question of law to be determined by the court. These include:
- Defendant engaged in the ultra hazardous activity
- Plaintiff was harmed
- Plaintiff’s harm was the kind of harm that would be anticipated as a result of the risk created by the activity
- Defendant’s ultra hazardous activity was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm
There are very few defenses to strict liability claims. The few defenses to strict liability claims that exist are the following:
- Contributory Negligence. Contributory negligence is not a bar to recovery for a plaintiff’s claim unless the plaintiff knowingly and unreasonably subjects himself or herself to a risk of harm.
- Assumption of Risk. Assumption of risk defense to strict liability claim may be brought based on the consent doctrine. For example, if a plaintiff engage in an ultra-hazardous activity, he or she may not be able to recover in strict liability from injuries arising from the expected risks of the ultra-hazardous activity.
- Abuse/Misuse. Abuse or misuse of a product is a defense only if the plaintiff used the product in a way not intended by its design and the use was not foreseeable by the manufacturer. Additionally, a manufacturer is strictly liable if the plaintiff removes a safety feature from a product and it is not foreseeable that a user of the product would attempt to do so.
- Comparative Fault. Comparative fault in some jurisdictions permits lessens the recovery of the plaintiff based on plaintiff’s own fault. In a comparative negligence defense the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by the percentage they are deemed to be at fault for their own injuries.
If you have been injured, are going to engage in, or have caused the injury of another because of a strict liability activity, you should contact a criminal lawyer because they can help ensure the protection of your rights.