Tort Liability

Strict Liability

Strict liability requires only that a person or entity did the action. There is no need to prove fault or intent. There is liability if the act is committed.

Strict liability imposes legal responsibility for one’s conduct without the need to prove negligence or fault. Merely committing a tort, or a violation against others, intentionally or by negligence, is enough to establish liability. The theory behind strict liability is that some activities are so dangerous that those who engage in them are deemed to be at fault if someone is injured. Strict liability is imposed in cases of ultrahazardous activity, where the danger to the general public is especially high. Some examples include handling explosives, keeping wild animals, and using harmful chemicals.

Strict liability is also imposed if someone is injured because of a defective product, one that is designed, manufactured, or marketed in a flawed way that results in an injury to a consumer. For strict liability to apply in this situation, the seller must be in the business of selling the product, the product must be defective when it leaves the seller's hands, and the product must reach the user without substantial change. For example, if someone buys a can of tuna at the grocery store, makes a sandwich, and finds a piece of glass in the tuna, the manufacturer might be strictly liable. It does not matter if the manufacturer used reasonable care, which is irrelevant in strict liability cases.

What makes strict liability different from negligence (the failure to exercise appropriate care) is that in cases involving strict liability, a plaintiff does not have to prove the elements of duty, breach, or foreseeable harm. Duty is a legal obligation to carry out an action. For example, Janet has a duty to use reasonable care not to injure other drivers when driving. However, Janet receives a text and looks at her cell phone while driving and hits the car in front of her, injuring the driver. In this instance, Janet breached her duty. Breach means that there was a failure to do something that one is obligated to do by contract or agreement. Foreseeable harm is the idea that a reasonable person would be able to predict or anticipate the harmful results of their action. In this example, Janet is texting while driving. It was foreseeable that Janet could get in an accident while she was looking down at her phone.

The plaintiff does not have to establish that the defendant's conduct was unreasonable to impose strict liability. These elements are all presumed in strict liability cases. From a practical standpoint, this is a significant matter. What this means during a trial is that an injured party only has to prove causation and damages. They do not have to establish that the defendant had a duty or breached that duty. Thus, strict liability cases do not require a plaintiff to prove the same elements as do negligence cases.