What is a strict liability cause of action?

Strict liability cause of action is a legal doctrine that makes a person or company responsible for their actions or products which cause damages regardless of any negligence or fault on their part. Whether or not a tort action is considered strict liability and what damages are appropriate will depend on your state law. Enter your ZIP code below to consult with an attorney for free below and learn more about the laws in your state.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Strict liability is a legal doctrine that makes a person or company responsible for their actions or products which cause damages regardless of any negligence or fault on their part. A plaintiff filing a personal injury lawsuit under a law does not need to show intentional or negligent conduct, only that the defendant’s action triggered strict liability and that the plaintiff suffered a harm. This is commonly used when a defective product is involved. Whether or not a tort action is considered strict liability and what damages are appropriate will depend on your state law. So consult an experienced personal injury attorney prior to filing.

When does strict liability apply?

This often applies when people engage in inherently dangerous activities. There are many factors a court will use to determine whether or not an activity is inherently dangerous. Some activities, such as transportation or use of heavy explosives or dangerous chemicals, are inherently dangerous in any circumstance. Other activities may be dangerous, but not inherently dangerous enough to trigger strict liability laws.

For those activities, strict liability crime assessment looks at the possible level of harm the activity could cause, whether or not such an activity is common or expected in the place it is being conducted, and whether or not the activity is necessary. For example, a construction company using some sort of blasting technique on a job may not be inherently dangerous in an unpopulated area if adequate safety precautions are met, but can be inherently dangerous if done in a crowded city.

If a construction company is conducting blasting activities in a crowded city, and if the blasting causes harm to someone the company can be liable for any personal injuries under tort law.

It does not matter if the blasting was properly monitored in order to ensure the safest possible technique or if the party in question used reasonable care. If an activity is inherently dangerous and a plaintiff suffers an injury as a result of that conduct, then a strict liability action negates any defense.

Inherently dangerous activities can include acts by the defendant, transportation of various materials or explosives, or keeping a wild animal or otherwise dangerous animals that can cause harm to others. In some areas, this could even apply to certain breeds of dogs. 

It also may apply in the case of certain manufactured products. In strict liability offenses, anyone who is involved in the manufacture or sale of the defective product can be held responsible if it was defective and someone was injured.

There is no need to prove negligence in a product liability claim. A plaintiff must show that they did not tamper with or misuse the product, but that the product was manufactured and sold in a condition that the ordinary and expected use of it resulted in harm to them. The injured person has no duty to establish knowledge of the defects on the part of the accused. 

The theory of strict liability also comes up occasionally in criminal and traffic cases. The same general principles apply: an act plus a harm, regardless of intent, equals liability. Speeding is a good example of this type of offense. Statutes allow for drivers to be ticketed and punished for the offense of speeding, even when the driver was merely reckless about monitoring his own speed. It is the driver’s legal responsibility to ensure they’re following the law. 

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What are the elements of strict liability?

A plaintiff in a civil cause of action must generally show three things to establish an offense. The first is that a defendant (person or company) did something that was inherently dangerous and unreasonable under the circumstances. The plaintiff must then show that the inherently dangerous act created a risk for the plaintiff. Finally, the plaintiff must show they actually suffered harm as a result of their injury. If a plaintiff came across a wet floor, but did not slip and fall, there is no claim to be made. Dangerous propensities alone do not justify a strict liability lawsuit.

Once a plaintiff proves a personal injury claim, a defendant is on the hook for the damages, regardless of their disclaimers. Disclaimers and waivers of liability for products are often invalidated by courts as against public policy (courts should not condone the manufacture and distribution of defective products). Warranties are typically limited so that manufacturers and retailers are held responsible for personal injuries caused by the use of the product. 

Depending on the severity of the issue, some defendants may face criminal liability. This would include liability for injuries and anything they did following that knowledge that would constitute a criminal act.

How can you get legal help?

Although it may seem like a windfall for a plaintiff, a finding of strict liability can actually hinder a plaintiff’s recovery. Without showing intentional or willful conduct, many states only award damages to adequately compensate the plaintiff for their injury, and do not authorize the award of incidental or punitive damages. Strict liability rules can be complicated. So whatever side you’re on, be sure you have a qualified lawyer to help you sort out the details.

Before pursuing claims or torts, review the remedies available in your jurisdiction to see which theory best fits the objectives of your lawsuit. Evaluate actual property or personal damages and the responsibility for damages. Is the company owner liable, or was it not inherently dangerous unless misused? Don’t underestimate the effects of qualified defense attorneys.

Whether related to product design defects, duty of care, or something else, a personal injury lawyer can also help walk you through the various requirements and remedies in your jurisdiction.

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