Ultrahazardous activities are also known as “abnormally dangerous” activities. It is classified as a strict liability tort, meaning that the person performing the activity can be held liable even if they did not make any mistakes and took precautions to prevent harm.
Sometimes the term ultrahazardous activity is used to describe high-risk, extreme recreational activities such as sky-diving or cliff diving. However, these are generally not included in a torts discussion, as they are usually accompanied by a liability waiver and consented to by the person engaging in the activity.
In order to prevail on an ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities claim, the plaintiff needs to prove all of the following elements:
- The activity involves a verifiable risk of serious harm to persons or property
- The activity cannot be performed without the risk of serious harm, no matter how much care is taken, and
- The activity is not commonly engaged in by the people of the community
Also, it must be proven that the defendant’s actions actually caused the plaintiffs injuries, and that the plaintiff did in fact sustain injury.
Of the elements listed above, perhaps the most important is the last element regarding community standards. Actions that are not normally considered to be ultrahazardous may be transformed into an ultrahazardous activity they are performed in a specific community or location. For example, the act of transporting hazardous materials might not in itself be considered ultrahazardous. However, if the transportation is made near a school, it might then be categorized as ultrahazardous.
Common examples of ultrahazardous activities include:
- The use or storage of explosives
- Blasting or demolitions operations
- Using, transporting, storing, or handling hazardous chemicals
- Disposing of nuclear or chemical wastes
- Controlled burning of buildings or fields
- Activities involving radioactive materials
- Certain types of product defects
If a person who engages in such abnormally dangerous activities injures another in the process, again they will be held liable even if they exercised reasonable care.
Defenses in an ultrahazardous activities claim are few and very difficult to prove. Usually the execution of the ultrahazardous activity itself is enough to prove liability. Defenses typically involve the lack of care on the part of the injured party, for example, they did not pay attention to warnings or violated safety precautions.
Defenses to abnormally dangerous activities claims include:
- Contributory or Comparative Negligence: The injured party’s own actions contributed to their own injury. Damages will be reduced or denied accordingly
- Assumption of Risk: The injured party knew of the risk and was fairly warned, but proceeded to approach the danger on their own, resulting in their own injury
Thus, if the defendant is able to prove that the plaintiff had a part in their own injury, they may be able to claim a defense.
If you have been injured or if your property has been seriously damaged by an ultrahazardous activity, you may have grounds for a civil lawsuit according to tort laws. You should hire a personal injury lawyer if you will be needing legal representation in a court of law. Your attorney will explain to you all the nuances of ultrahazardous activities laws in a way that is understandable to you. Also, a lawyer can help you prepare for any defenses that the opposite party might raise.