What is strict liability?
Under the theory of strict liability a defendant is liable for injuring a plaintiff even if the defendant exercised due care.
How is Strict Liability Different from Negligence?
In order to recover in a negligence cause of action the plaintiff must prove four things:
- The defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached that duty
- The defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injury
- The plaintiff suffered actual harm because of the defendant’s actions.
Under a theory of strict liability, the plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant was negligent in order to recover damages.
When is a Defendant Strictly Liable for a Product Defect?
A defendant is liable for a product defect when
- there is a product defect
- the product defect existed at the time that the product left the manufactures hands
- the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous, and
- the defect contributed to the plaintiff’s injury.
Company A manufactures the car that Jake drives. Company A knew that the car had engine problems, and the engines routinely fall out of cars that Company A manufactures. Jake is driving down the freeway.
Suddenly, the engine falls out of the car and Jake lost control of his car. Jake is severely injured. Company A will be strictly liable for Jake’s injuries.
The product was defective because engines were falling out of the cars.
Company A knew about the defect, so the defect existed at the time that the product left the manufactures hands. The defect made the car unreasonably dangerous because engines were falling out of cars.
The defect contributed to Jake’s injury because Jake lost control of his car after the engine fell out of the car.
When is a Defendant Strictly Liable for Damage Caused by an Animal?
There are three situations where a defendant could be liable for damages caused by an animal:
Damage done by a Trespassing Animal:
A defendant can be strictly liable for damage done by livestock or other animals (other than dogs or cats) that enter onto another person’s property. The damage that is covered by strict liability is limited to the damages are characteristic of an intrusion.
For example, Kate owns a horse. The horse gets out of Kate’s yard and runs to Lindsey’s farm. The horse destroys Lindsey’s garden. Kate will be strictly liable for the damage that the horse caused to Lindsey’s garden.
Damage done by a Wild Animal:
The owner of a wild animal can be strictly liable for harm done by the wild animal even if the owner takes precautions in order to prevent harm. The jury must find that the wild animal’s dangerous propensity caused the plaintiff’s injury. In order for a dangerous propensity to be a cause of the plaintiff’s injury the jury must find that the dangerous propensity was characteristic of that wild animal. The plaintiff must not do anything to bring about his own injury.
Strict liability also applies to an injury that is caused by a plaintiff’s fearful reaction to the sight of the wild animal.
For example, Stella keeps a pet lion in her apartment. Ted goes to visit Stella’s apartment. Ted is sitting on the couch when the lion starts running toward him. In a panic, Ted gets up and begins running toward the door. Through the chaos Ted fails to look where he is stepping, and trips on a chair. As a result, ted breaks his leg. The lion catches up to Ted and bites Ted’s broken leg.
Stella would be liable for the damage caused by the lion and the damages that were a result of Ted’s fear of the lion.
Damage Caused by a Domestic Animal:
A defendant is liable for damages caused by a domestic animal when
- the defendant was the owner of possessor of the animal
- the animal had dangerous propensities abnormal to its class
- the defendant knew or had reason to know the animal had dangerous propensities, and
- those propensities were a cause the plaintiff’s injury.
For example, Nick owns a dog named Champ. Champ is very aggressive, and Nick often has problems controlling the aggression. Champ growls at everyone and often attempts to bite strangers. One day Nick takes Champ to a park. While at the park, Champ’s dog bites Rosa.
Nick will be strictly liable for the damages Champ caused when Champ bit Rosa. Nick owed Champ. Champ had dangerous propensities, and Nick knew of that danger. Finally, Champ’s dangerous propensities were the cause of Rosa’s injuries.
What is an Abnormally Dangerous Activity?
A defendant can be strictly liable for personal injuries and property damages if a defendant is engaged in an abnormally dangerous activity regardless of the precautions the defendant took. Three requirements must be met in order for an activity to be abnormally dangerous activity .
- The activity must create foreseeable and highly significant risk of physical harm even when the defendant exercises reasonable care.
- The activity must not be one of common usage.
- The type of harm suffered must be in the scope of risk of the dangerous activity.
Courts also instruct the jury to consider the gravity of harm the activity caused, whether the activity was carried out in an inappropriate place, and whether the activity brings value to the community.
Some examples of abnormally dangerous activities are: (1) activities involving radioactive materials, (2) transporting dangerous chemicals, (3) transporting explosives, and (4) disposing of nuclear waste.
Why Does Strict Liability Exist?
Imposing strict liability is usually a policy decision.
The law is to impose liability regardless of how carefully defendant conducted himself because it would be unjust to excuse the defendant irresponsible conduct.
Strict liability also shifts the costs of injuries and damages from the victim to the defendant who willing engaged in the activity for profit.