Strict Liability

In the law of torts, it is usually necessary to show that a person is negligent or otherwise at fault before that person can be found legally responsible for damages. If you slip on a banana peel and suffer injury, you must prove that the property owner knew or had reason to know that the banana peel was on the floor and still failed to clean it up. If the property owner did not know it was there (maybe it was just discarded) there can be no finding of liability.
In a car accident case, if the other driver crosses the center line and hits another car, the driver will usually be found to be negligent. However, if the driver had a sudden stroke causing loss of control of the car there would be no liability because there is no fault present.
The law of strict liability is different, however. In the case of defective products, the law says that if a manufacturer puts a defective product into the stream of commerce it is responsible for injuries caused by the product regardless of fault. The manufacturer might have used extreme care in making the product. Nevertheless, if the product is defective and causes injury the law holds the manufacturer strictly liable. A good recent example of potential strict liability involves the defective airbags found in many late model automobiles. If an airbag were to deploy unexpectedly causing injury to the driver (or causing an accident and injuries to other persons), the manufacturer could be held strictly liable for those injuries even if it was careful in the design and manufacture of the airbag.
The law of strict liability reflects a decision by society that in certain cases it is better to shift the cost and responsibility for injuries to a specific party (in our case product manufacturers) without regard to whether they acted negligently. This cost shifting philosophy is intended to encourage manufacturers to make better products and to remove an unreasonable burden of proof on the part of injured consumers.
The law imposes strict liability in other circumstances as well. If a person engages in “ultrahazardous activities” (such as blasting or similar lawful but dangerous activities) they will be held strictly liable for any damage or injury incurred as a result of those activities. If the foundation of your house is damaged due to blasting on an adjacent property you need not prove negligence on the part of your neighbor in order to recover. Think of it like the “Pottery Barn Rule” – you damage it, you own it.
– Kevin Palmer

Posted in Litigation / Personal Injury, Newsletters