Strict liability is a theory that imposes legal responsibility for damages or injuries even if the person who was found strictly liable did not act with fault or negligence. This theory usually applies in three types of situations: animal bites (in certain states), manufacturing defects, and abnormally dangerous activities.
Strict Liability and Product Liability
Most states now impose strict tort liability for defectively manufactured products. Plaintiffs in states that recognize strict liability for manufacturing defects will not need to show that the manufacturer failed to use due care or was reckless. A plaintiff can recover damages even if the manufacturer used all appropriate care in the preparation of the product.
A plaintiff suing under a theory of strict liability will need to show that there was a defect, that the defect actually and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury, and that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous. Not only buyers of the product, but also bystanders or guests and others who do not have a direct relationship with the product can sue for strict liability if they are injured by the product.
Strict Liability and Animal Bites
In some jurisdictions, the theory of strict liability is used in connection with pets that bite or attack. The reason for strict liability in those jurisdictions is that animals do not have a conscience, and those who choose to keep them as pets have a duty to restrain them to avoid harm.
Often, state laws recognize a difference between domesticated and wild animals. In many jurisdictions, a person who keeps domesticated animals will be strictly liable for injuries only if the pet owner had actual knowledge of the pet’s dangerous propensities. However, in some states or localities, a statute or ordinance has been passed such that dog owners can be held strictly liable for damages caused by their animals trespassing on somebody else’s property. When wild animals are involved, the keeper of the wild animal will be held strictly liable even if the animal is not known to be dangerous.
Abnormally Dangerous Conditions or Ultrahazardous Activities
Strict liability is also imposed when somebody creates an abnormally dangerous condition or performs ultrahazardous activities, and something goes wrong that causes an injury to another person. Certain activities are considered inherently dangerous. These are activities that involve serious potential harm, involve a high degree of risk that cannot be adequately protected against by using reasonable care, and are not commonly performed in the community or under the circumstances. For example, it is not common to store explosives and flammable liquids in a city apartment.
A plaintiff proving strict liability in the case of ultrahazardous activity may have to show that the defendant was engaged in an ultrahazardous activity, that the plaintiff was injured, that the plaintiff’s harm could have been anticipated as a result of the ultrahazardous activity, and that the defendant’s activity was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.
Defenses to Strict Liability
Common defenses to claims of strict liability are assumption of risk, statute of limitations, statute of repose, and federal preemption. Assumption of risk requires the defendant to prove that the plaintiff knew and appreciated the risk created by a particular condition, usually a defective product, and the plaintiff voluntarily assumed that risk. For example, if a plaintiff knows that someone stores explosives in his apartment and visits anyway, the defendant may have a strong defense that he assumed the risk.
In general, most states have a statute of limitations that requires an action be brought within a specific period of time after the victim discovered or should have discovered his or her injuries. In some states, there is also a statute of repose, which mandates an absolute limit on the time within which an action should be brought, regardless of when the injury was discovered. In some states, in product defect lawsuits, a manufacturer that complied with federal safety regulations may be able to avoid liability under state product liability law.