Strict Liability Tort: Definition, Implications and Examples

June 13, 2023

Strict liability is a legal standard courts use to determine liability for certain torts. Understanding the implications of strict liability on your legal claim can help you pursue your claim more effectively. The attorneys at McEldrew Purtell can help you with your strict liability tort claims.

Definition and Basic Principles of Strict Liability Tort

What is strict liability tort law?

In American tort law, there are several levels of liability. To understand the implications of strict liability on tort law, it is important to first understand the basic concepts:

  • A tort is an action or omission that leads to injury or harm.
  • Tort liability generally holds another party accountable for their actions via the civil court system.
  • Strict liability torts hold the offending party responsible regardless of the offender's culpability.

There are three main classes of torts:

  • Strict liability torts
  • Intentional torts
  • Negligence

Intentional torts consider the offender's intent in connection with the offensive action. Negligence holds offenders responsible for their careless actions. Meanwhile, strict liability disregards the actor's mental state.

For example, the court views accidentally hitting someone as different than committing battery and intentionally hitting someone.

Strict liability tort law, or absolute liability, differs from strict liability crimes, as the latter falls under criminal law and torts are civil. However, the concept of strict liability remains similar across the civil and criminal courts.

Implications of Strict Liability Tort

Strict liability torts can have different implications than other torts. The courts use a different standard to judge strict liability tort claims. Understanding the legal implications of these torts can help you understand the strength of your claim.

The Impact of Strict Liability Tort on Plaintiffs and Defendants

If someone accuses you of committing a strict liability tort, the court can find you liable if you committed the accused action or omission. The court is not concerned with your fault or intent. The judge does not care if you felt remorse for your actions or if the incident was an honest mistake. Whether you intended the outcome of your actions or acted negligently is immaterial when the court considers strict liability claims.

Strict liability generally allows plaintiffs to prove their claims more easily. Plaintiffs only need to prove the defendant committed the tort. The plaintiff need not prove intent.

Common defenses used by those accused of committing strict liability torts include the following:

  • Assumption of the risk of harm
  • Abuse or misuse of the product
  • Comparative fault

These common strict liability defenses focus on the plaintiff's role in the accident. A successful defense could convince the court that the plaintiff is fully or partially responsible for the sustained damages.

Strict Liability Tort and Legal Responsibility

If the court finds the defendant liable for committing a strict liability tort, the court may award damages for the harm and injuries caused. These damages may include the following:

Compensatory damages or actual damages: The court awards these damages to compensate the injured party for their losses. Compensatory damages can include property damage, hospital bills for personal injury, and pain and suffering.

Punitive damages: The court imposes these damages on the defendant to punish particularly heinous actions. Punitive damages can be substantial, as courts also use them to warn other parties who may act similarly.

Examples of Strict Liability Tort

Strict liability torts can fall into three common categories. These include product liability claims, animal attacks, and abnormally dangerous activities.

Product Liability Claims

Product liability claims are one common type of strict liability tort that courts hear. In product liability claims, the plaintiff must prove the product is defective. If the plaintiff can accomplish this, the court will find the defendant liable, regardless of the defendant's intent.

To successfully prove a product liability claim, the plaintiff will attempt to establish the following:

  • The product was not reasonably safe when it was sold.
  • The product seller expected consumers to use the product without additional modifications.
  • The plaintiff used the product as intended.
  • The plaintiff suffered harm as a direct result of the product's defects.
  • The plaintiff can be compensated for their damages.

Examples of famous product liability claims include the following:

While these product liability claims became well-known, people file less-publicized product liability claims daily. If a defective product has caused you physical harm, consider filing a product liability lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can help analyze the strength of your product liability tort claim.

In product liability claims, you hold the following parties accountable for your damages:

  • The product manufacturer
  • The designer
  • The retailer
  • The wholesaler

Your lawyer can help you determine which parties may be liable for your damages.

Animal Attacks

Animal owners in some states can be held strictly liable for their pets' actions. Sometimes, the court can hold the owner liable even if they were unaware their pet could be dangerous. 

Alternatively, some states have a one-bite rule. These rules generally protect the pet owner until the animal displays a tendency for violence. 

Generally, the plaintiff must show the court that the animal harmed them, that the animal belongs to the defendant, and that the plaintiff did not provoke it.

Some people keep wild animals that can cause injuries. The owner of a wild animal can be held strictly liable for the physical harm the animal causes.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

Certain activities are deemed abnormally dangerous by the courts. These are sometimes referred to as ultrahazardous activities.

An abnormally dangerous activity is defined as an activity that is not common and creates a foreseeable and significant risk of injury, even when care is exercised.

If a person conducts an abnormally dangerous activity that results in harm, they can be held strictly liable for their actions.

The Role of an Attorney in Navigating Strict Liability Tort Cases

If you or a family member has been harmed by a strict liability tort, a lawyer may be able to help. The legal system is designed to protect you from unnecessary damages caused by another party's actions or omissions. Speaking with experienced personal injury lawyers in your area can help you determine the best legal options. 

Whether you were harmed due to an abnormally dangerous activity, an animal attack, or a defective product, the lawyers at McEldrew Purtell are here to help. Contact us today to discuss your strict liability tort claim.