Recovering Compensation Without Proving Negligence
Most personal injury claims are based on a legal theory of negligence. To prove negligence, you must show that another person or entity (like a business) failed to act as reasonably and that you were injured as a result of their carelessness. There are limited circumstances, however, where the legal doctrine of “strict liability” applies. In those situations, you can recover damages without needing to show that the defendant (person or business from whom you seek damages) acted negligently.
What Is Strict Liability?
Under the legal principle of strict liability, a person can be required to pay damages for injuring someone else without the injured party ever producing evidence of negligence. Strict liability laws are generally found in state statutes and can vary from one state to another. Accordingly, a particular strict liability claim may be available in some states but not others. Counties and cities also may have local strict liability ordinances that apply only in the particular county or city.
It’s important to understand that an injured person may have both strict liability and negligence claims for the same injury. A good personal injury attorney can explain all the various claims that might be brought in a single lawsuit.
Personal Injury Cases Where a Strict Liability Claim May Be Available
There are generally three types of legal claims where the principle of strict liability may apply, depending on the law of your state:
Dog bites and wild animal attacks — Most states impose strict liability on dog owners when a domesticated canine bites someone in an unprovoked attack. To recover under the strict liability dog bite laws of some states, an injured person needs to show only that they were bitten by the defendant’s dog. In other states, however, a dog owner can be held liable only if there’s evidence they knew of the dog’s aggressive behavior (e.g., when there was a prior attack).
Some states hold owners strictly liable for any injuries caused while their animal is trespassing on someone else’s property. For example, if a horse escapes its owner’s property and destroys a neighbor’s garden, the owner of the horse may be strictly liable for damages. Some states also typically impose strict liability on the owners of dangerous wild animals based only on the fact that the animal is of a type known to be dangerous (such as a lion, tiger, or bear). In states that impose strict liability for wild animal attacks, owners can be liable no matter how carefully they try to keep the animal locked up or fenced in and regardless of whether an attack was provoked by the injured person.
- Abnormally dangerous activities — Some activities, such as the manufacture of explosives or the transport of hazardous materials, are considered so inherently dangerous that the law holds companies or individuals who engage in those activities strictly liable for injuries to others without requiring an injured party to prove carelessness or negligence. To succeed with a claim in such a case, an injured person must show only that the defendant was engaged in a dangerous activity covered by the strict liability statute and that the dangerous activity resulted in injury.
- Product liability claims — A majority of states now impose strict liability in some types of product liability lawsuits. A person filing a strict liability claim must show only that the product had a defect that made it unreasonably dangerous and that the defective product caused injury when used as intended. There’s no need to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent in designing, manufacturing, or marketing the product–only that the product was sold with a dangerous defect.