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Strict Liability in Tort Law - Categories of Strict Liability and Examples

Traci Cull, Kat Kadian-Baumeyer
  • Author
    Traci Cull

    Traci Cull has been an attorney for 25 years. She has taught in multiple programs and at multiple higher education institutes in areas of paralegal law, criminal law, business, ethics, and more. She has developed a multitude of material and classes on compliance, legal textbook supplementals, bar exam review questions, and online lessons. She loves instructional and course design as well as subject matter authoring of all legal subjects. She is currently authoring a Tort Law textbook. She is a licensed mediator and compassionate trust leader and enjoys teaching about alternative dispute resolution.

  • Instructor
    Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

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

What is strict liability, and what are the different types of strict liability? Learn about strict liability torts and when they apply. Updated: 01/30/2022

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What is Strict Liability Tort?

Strict liability is a doctrine that holds a person liable for any injuries or damages caused by their products or actions, even if they had no intent to harm and were not at fault. An injured party does not have to prove negligence or fault in order to receive damages under strict liability. Even if a defendant uses safety precautions and posts warnings, if the action falls under the theory of strict liability law, they will be held liable. The idea behind strict liability is that the defendant's actions are of such dangerous propensity that it is reasonably foreseeable someone could be injured. It is meant to encourage people who engage in these types of behaviors or actions to use safety measures. The injured party does not have to prove fault on the part of the defendant, but they do have to show that the hazardous conditions caused their injuries. In tort law, the doctrine of strict liability does not look to a defendant's intent, negligence, or lack of reasonable care, it simply looks at the dangerous activities and whether those actions caused the plaintiff's injuries. An example of a strict liability claim may be when a consumer buys a product that turns out to be defective or dangerous and is then injured by using it. Another example may be injuries caused by someone's dangerous animal. This lesson will delve deeper into the different categories of strict liability.

Strict Liability vs. Negligence

Neither negligence or strict liability torts require intent, and both have a few things in common. Strict liability occurs because companies and people are obligated to make their products, animals, or actions safe and requires no wrongful intent on the part of the defendant. The difference comes when looking at the level of care or duty required. In a negligence case, there is duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. The same thing goes for strict liability. However, negligence uses a reasonable duty of care standard; strict liability does not look to duty of care. Strict liability exists without duty of care. Because the actions involved are of such a dangerous nature, the defendant will be held liable for any injuries or damages.

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Types of Strict Liability

There are three general categories in strict liability:

  • Abnormally dangerous activities
  • Keeping dangerous animals
  • Product liability

Remember that strict liability was created to hold people responsible for engaging in ultrahazardous activities to protect the public. Any injuries that arise from these activities must be shown to be the result of the dangerous activities, animals, or products. There is no intent or carelessness that needs to be proven. The common factor in these is that they are all considered "dangerous" activities, and the person who engages in them should be fully responsible for any repercussions. A person who happens upon such a thing and is injured should not have to prove the other person's wrongdoing in order to recover damages. If a person chooses to engage in an ultrahazardous activity or own a dangerous animal or product, they should bear the full responsibility for injuries that occur as a result. A difference in these could be that an owner may have no idea the animal they own is dangerous. Of course, if the person owned a tiger, they would be strictly liable for any injuries caused by that tiger. What about a dog? If the dog is a quiet little dog who has never in ten years growled at or bitten anyone and one day bites someone, should the owner be strictly liable for the injuries? The old common law tended to lean towards the "one free bite" rule, which held that if an owner had no idea the animal was dangerous, they were not necessarily liable. States today have statutes to deal with this issue, and it does vary state by state. The majority of states hold the owner liable for all injuries, whether they had knowledge of any dangerous propensities or not.

Possession of Animals

In common law, the liability of owning a dangerous animal was usually seen in trespassing animal cases. If a person owned livestock that escaped and caused damage to another person's property, the owner was held liable for damages. Most states have statutes that deal with these animals and whether or not the owner attempted to fence them in. If they did and the trespassing animal still escaped and caused damages to another's animals or property, the trespassing owner was liable. If the plaintiff did not attempt to fence their own property or animals in, they are often precluded from a strict liable claim.

Today, most dangerous animal cases come from ownership of dangerous animals. Owning dangerous animals requires that the owner be strictly liable for all injuries and damages caused by those animals. A person who owns a wild animal is always strictly liable for all injuries caused by it. Examples of wild animals would be monkeys, foxes, wolves, tigers, and boa constrictors. A domesticated animal like a cat or dog is a little different. Most states have specific statutes dealing with dog bites or leash laws, and all of those need to be taken into account when there is an injury. Was the injured party provoking the animal or trespassing? That can sometimes be a mitigating factor with domestic animals. However, if an owner knows the animal has a propensity to be dangerous, growl, or bite, they will always be strictly liable. Most cases today hold all owners liable for domestic animal injuries, regardless of their knowledge of their dangerousness. The only questions occur when the injured party was trespassing or provoking the animal. Even then, the owner is still sometimes held strictly liable.

Ultrahazardous Activities

The majority of courts today hold that strict liability applies when a person is engaging in ultrahazardous activities. Ultrahazardous activities contain a high degree of risk. The Restatement of Torts looks at six factors when deciding if an activity is abnormally dangerous. They include:

  • High degree of risk
  • Risk of serious harm is great
  • Risk cannot be eliminated, even with due care
  • Not a common activity
  • Inappropriateness of location
  • Social value versus dangerous attributes

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of strict liability laws?

Owning dangerous animals requires that the owner be strictly liable for all injuries and damages caused by those animals. State statutes deal with dog biting laws. The majority of courts today hold strict liability applies when a person engages in ultrahazardous activities. Product liability holds manufacturers, transporters, retailers, and anyone involved in a product liable for injuries caused by that product by a consumer.

What are the three types of strict liability torts?

There are three general categories in strict liability: abnormally dangerous activities, keeping dangerous animals, and product liability. Any injuries that arise from any of these activities must simply be shown to be the result of the dangerous activities, animals, or products.

What does strict liability mean in law?

Strict liability is a doctrine that holds a person liable for any injuries or damages caused by their products or actions, even if they had no intent and were not at fault. It is designed to protect the public and consumers.

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