Elements of Strict Liability

February 17, 2023

When you experience harm, you don’t always have to prove someone was careless or negligent. Sometimes the standard is strict liability, where a person or business is held to account just because an event happened.

Strict liability is restricted to three types of cases in Pennsylvania: defective products, animal bites, and dangerous activities. If you have been hurt in such a case, a lawyer can help you launch a strict liability claim to ensure you meet the requirements to recover damages.   

An Overview of Strict Liability Laws

If you bring a lawsuit based on strict liability, you have to meet the elements of strict liability to win your case. These elements depend on the kind of harm you experienced. Sometimes these are the result of the statute that lays out the rules for such cases. 

Even if you succeed on a claim of strict liability, the person responsible may still have a defense. In Pennsylvania, you must bring your strict liability case within two years of the injury.

Defective Products

Sometimes a person is injured by a product. Product liability is an example of strict liability where you don't have to show that the people involved in making the items you depend on to live your daily life were careless.

If the test for strict liability is met, the manufacturer can be held liable even if they were not negligent. 

In general, for strict product liability, someone has to show that: 

  • The product had a defect
  • The defect made the product unreasonably dangerous
  • The product caused their injury

In addition, the person suing has to show they used the product as it was meant to be used. If you are hurt because you used the product in the wrong way, your claim might not succeed. 

The defect may be in the product’s manufacture, design, or in marketing materials that fail to warn about a potential hazard.

In cases of defective products, bystanders who are also hurt can sue the manufacturer, even if they didn’t own the item in question. It is possible to sue for injuries to your children because of defects in toys, for example.

Even though defective product cases are judged on the basis of strict liability, manufacturers do have a defence. If a court accepts their defence, your lawsuit won’t succeed even if you have proven all parts of the test. 

A manufacturer can defend themselves against a defective products claim if they can show you knew about the defect. If you’ve had a product for a period of time and know it has some faults, but go ahead and use it, the manufacturer may not be held liable even if one of those faults is what directly caused your injury. 

You have two years from the time you are injured by a product to bring a lawsuit in Pennsylvania. However, if you don’t immediately realize you are injured, the clock starts once your injury is discovered. 

Animal Owners

Sometimes a person is injured by an animal, such as when they are bitten by a dog. If the strict liability test for animal bites is met, the owner can be held liable. That’s the case even if the owner has not been careless or reckless.

However, in Pennsylvania, the law limits the amount of money you can recover if the dog attacks you but the owner is not negligent. In this case, you can only recover medical expenses for your injuries. If you want to get other damages, such as for lost income or pain and suffering, you have to show the owner was negligent. Showing the owner is negligent is not a case of strict liability.

The test for strict liability in dog bite cases is: 

  • The defendant owns the dog
  • The dog bit the person bringing the lawsuit
  • The dog bite caused the person’s injuries

The dog owner has two possible defences in a case of strict liability:

  • The dog was provoked, or
  • The defendant was trespassing on the property.

If either defence applies, the owner will not be liable in a strict liability case. 

If you want to recover more than medical expenses, you have to show the owner was negligent. The test for negligence is: 

  • Proving the owner knew the dog had “unmistakable vicious tendencies,” and
  • The owner failed to take reasonable steps to control the dog.

If the person who got the bite somehow bore some fault for their injuries, the dog owner may not have full liability in a negligence case. Even if the lawsuit succeeds, the money you get may be reduced according to how big a role you played in the incident.

Dangerous Activities

Sometimes a person does something so dangerous they can be held strictly liable for the harm that results, even if they are not otherwise negligent. 

A common example is storing explosives in a residence. There is a high likelihood someone could experience injuries in these circumstances. In these cases a person bringing a lawsuit would not be required to have exercised reasonable care to prevent being injured. 

The general test for dangerous activities is: 

  • The person engaged in an ultrahazardous or inherently dangerous activity
  • The activity caused a high risk for injury
  • The plaintiff was injured because of the dangerous activity
  • The defendant could have predicted those injuries

There are ways to defend against a strict liability claim for dangerous activities as well. The person being sued could say the injuries were not substantially the result of the dangerous activity, but mostly from another cause.

Bring Your Strict Liability Claim To Us

The strict liability rule can make it easier for people who have been injured to get damages. If you fail to prove all parts of the strict liability law test, your claim will fail. 

The best way to ensure success in your case is to talk to a lawyer. The attorneys at McEldrew Purtell offer a free consultation. Contact us today to see if we can get you compensation for your injuries.