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What Is Strict Liability?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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Strict liability imposes liability without regards to culpability. It is a justification for a tort lawsuit, or a civil action. This type of liability applies in certain circumstances in which a person or company engages in behavior that is so dangerous that their intent or culpability is irrelevant.

In a civil suit, a plaintiff normally must prove that a defendant injured them either intentionally or negligently in order for the plaintiff to collect damages. For example, a person who is hit by a car cannot automatically sue the other driver and win. The victim of the car accident must prove that the other driver was either behaving negligently, or intentionally hit him.

When the strict liability doctrine applies, however, no proof of negligence or intent is necessary. This type of liability dictates that if the person was injured by the defendant, the defendant is guilty automatically. The defendant's intent or level of care is irrelevant.

Strict liability applies in certain situations where it is believed that the level of care the defendant took should not impact the plaintiff's right to recover for damages. In some jurisdictions, this type of liability is applicable in cases of defective products. This means that if a plaintiff is injured by a product malfunction, the manufacturers and sellers of that product can be held liable for the damages, even if they exercised appropriate care.

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Strict liability also applies to dog bite law in some jurisdictions. In states where this law applies, a person who owns a dog that bites is automatically liable for any injuries incurred by a plaintiff who suffers a bite. The owner's care of the dog, or their knowledge that the dog might bite, is irrelevant.

The courts apply the doctrine of imposing liability without fault when the situation is considered inherently dangerous. It aims to encourage responsible behavior and extreme care on the part of people who participate in these inherently dangerous situations. If a defendant knows that an injured plaintiff will be able to sue without proof of fault, the belief is that he will likely take extra precautions to ensure nothing happens that could provoke a lawsuit.

There are still defenses to lawsuits in which this doctrine is imposed. For example, the defendant could attempt to prove lack of fault. The defendant could also try to prove the plaintiff's negligence caused the injury or damage.

Strict liability exists primarily in civil cases. There is some strict liability in criminal law, but this is mainly associated with lesser statutory offenses such as parking tickets. For most crimes, strict liability is not appropriate due to Constitutional Due Process protections.

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