Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 21: Strict Liability

Chapter Overviews

Strict liability means that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff regardless of fault. In some situations, even if the defendant acted in a reasonable manner and took all necessary precautions, he or she may still be liable. Strict liability is applied when ultrahazardous activities, dangerous animals, or manufacturers of defective products cause harm. To win a strict liability case, the plaintiff must prove only causation and damages.

Dangerous Activities  Strict liability applies to activities that are unreasonably dangerous. Activities are considered unreasonably dangerous when they involve a risk of harm even when reasonable precautions are taken. Although these activities may be socially useful or necessary, those who conduct them may be held strictly liable. Companies conducting dangerous activities know that they are strictly liable for the harm they cause. Therefore, they build this cost into the price they charge for the work.

Animals  The law traditionally has held owners responsible for any harm caused by their untamed animals. However, the situation differs for household pets. The defendant is held strictly liable only if he or she had reason to believe the pet was dangerous to others. Even when strict liability does not apply, the negligence standard may still be used to hold owners of household pets liable for the harm they cause.

Defective Products  Product liability is the legal responsibility of manufacturers for injuries caused by defective products. Strict liability for product manufacturers is meant to encourage manufacturers to design safe products, test them before placing them on the market, and provide clear directions and warning labels. The cost companies incur for product research, safety features, and insurance is usually passed on to the consumer in the form of higher product prices.

Defenses to Strict Liability  There are very few defenses in strict liability cases. The defendant's best strategy may be to argue that he or she should be held to a negligence standard rather than a strict liability standard. A negligence standard could work in the defendant's favor because negligence is harder to prove than strict liability. A defendant may also try to show that there was no causation or that no damages were caused to the plaintiff. Manufacturers may also have a defense if the consumer used the product incorrectly or inappropriately.

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