Strict Liability Torts: Definition and Examples

Strict Liability Torts: Definition and Examples
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  • 0:06 Types of Strict…
  • 1:01 Animals, Owned or Posessed
  • 4:00 Abnormally Dangerous Act
  • 5:55 Product Liability
  • 7:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Strict liability applies when a defendant places another person in danger, even in the absence of negligence, simply because he is in possession of a dangerous product, animal or weapon. The plaintiff need not prove negligence.

Types of Strict Liability Torts

There are instances when a person becomes responsible for things that may go wrong even if the person did not intend for the wrong to occur. In other words, some actions hold a person strictly liable regardless of the circumstances. Say you owned an exotic Python. If the snake creeps out of the house and bites your neighbor, you will be held responsible even though you did not let the snake out. Ownership is enough to hold you responsible.

In other words, strict liability tort means a defendant is held fully liable for any injury sustained by another party regardless of whether the injury was intended. Dangerous animals are just one of three major strict liability categories. Strict liability categories include:

  • Animals, owned or possessed
  • Abnormally dangerous acts
  • Product liability

Animals, Owned or Possessed

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 may include livestock, like cows, horses, bulls or goats. Abnormally dangerous animals also fall under this category and may include snakes, tigers, monkeys or bears. You may think wild animals are not included because, well, they live in the wild. But that is not true. If a person is in possession of a wild animal or has wild animals on their land, like animals that are housed at a zoo, and the animal causes injury, liability is assumed.

Livestock and domestic animal ownership is fairly easy to prove. Livestock is generally branded, and domestic animals require registration in their place of residence. Wild animals, on the other hand, are more difficult to track. In an interesting case that remains in litigation as of late summer of 2013, the question of possession and ownership of suspect wild animal remains unanswered.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is located in a remote area of Tucson, Pima County. It is a place where tourists can experience Arizona's indigenous landscape. Back in 2009, a Dutch tourist and plaintiff, Zegerius, was brutally attacked by a wild javelina while touring the grounds. The victim sustained extensive damage, including torn muscles and severed veins and arteries to his calf and hand. So much damage was done that he was hospitalized for over a week.

As a side note, javelinas are a member of the peccary family. Although they are not particularly aggressive, they will attack if cornered. Javelinas were commonly seen on the trails within the museum. Although the museum did not own the animals, they were part of the scenery in a wildlife attraction. The question remained: who was in possession of this peccary? This is where it gets a little muddy.

The museum operators claim that this particular javelina was not one of the commonly seen animals on their property. They performed blood tests on the javelina in their possession, and it turned out that no match could be determined. In fact, the javelina that attacked Zegerius was never found. But the looming question of strict liability was still left unanswered. At last report, the plaintiff's attorneys filed further action claiming that, regardless of the ownership, possession is all the law requires.

Javelinas are wild animals. No provisions were made to corral the owned javelinas; therefore, other javelinas can come and go freely across the boundaries. While, as of late summer of 2013, no verdict had been rendered yet, this case proves that strict liability may be applied to cases where ownership does not have to be established.

Abnormally Dangerous Acts

Another form of strict liability comes with engaging in abnormally dangerous acts. An abnormally dangerous act can be defined as an act that carries a substantial risk to oneself and others' personal property and physical being. That's plenty of legal mumbo jumbo, think pyrotechnics, nuclear power plants and blasting rock with dynamite.

In Miller v. Civil Constructors, Inc., a bullet fired from a nearby quarry struck a person. The quarry, owned by Civil Constructors, was used for police target practice. The case seems rather cut and dry. Remember, in strict liability cases, negligence does not have to be proven. What does have to pan out is whether using a quarry to discharge a firearm is considered abnormally dangerous. Here is what the court will consider:

  • The activity is highly risky and could cause harm to a person, chattel or property.
  • It is highly likely that harm will result from the activity.
  • The risk could not be mitigated easily even if reasonable care is taken.
  • The act is not one that is commonly recognized.
  • It is inappropriate to be carried out in the location.
  • Whether its value to the community outweighs the risk involved.

It does not take all conditions for an act to be considered dangerous. One or more elements are enough.

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