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Understanding Strict Liability in Personal Injury Matters

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that imposes liability without fault. Strict liability allows an injured person to recover for damages and compensation regardless of negligence or fault. Some activities are so dangerous that even the use of utmost care to prevent harm does not remove the risk of harm completely.

Strict liability may apply in cases where people or companies engage in abnormally dangerous activities or ultra-hazardous activities. If the hazardous activity causes you harm, injury or damages, the person, persons or company that are engaged in the hazardous activity are liable no matter how careful they were, or what measures they took to prevent any harm.

Animals: Strict liability may apply to common household animals such as dogs as well as wild animals and circus animals such as tigers and elephants. If a dog owner knows of their dogs dangerous past behavior or the dog has previously bitten someone, the dog owner may be strictly liable for the dogs actions. On the other hand, if a circus elephant escapes from a circus that has taken every precaution to prevent the escape, the circus may be strictly liable because of the wild nature of the elephant.

Airplanes: Commercial flights and common airplanes used by consumers to travel are no longer considered hazardous or ultra-hazardous activity. Since flying is so common, the courts decided it can no longer be considered as a strict liability issue. Outside of the common airplane, test planes, experimental planes and other noncommercial planes may be considered as ultra-hazardous activity.

Blasting: Blasting is a common law school scenario used to explain the effects of ultra-hazardous activity. Today, blasting within a city or near other buildings that would foreseeably be harmed may be considered ultra-hazardous activity. If the blasting is outside of the city, then strict liability may not apply.

Product Liability: Typically, for strict liability to apply in a products liability case, the plaintiff must show:

  • The product is unreasonably dangerous;
  • product caused injury while being used in a way it was intended to be used; and
  • product was not changed from the condition in which it was originally sold.

Typically, you cannot bring a claim for a defective product under strict liability if you knew about the defect and continued to use it. Defective products can arise from: foreseeable risk of harm, negligent design, failure to warn, unsafe product, warranty of merchantability (Uniform Commercial Code), fitness for a particular purpose (Uniform Commercial Code), implied warranties, express warranties.