Strict liability, also called absolute liability, is a legal doctrine that applies to criminal and civil law. In personal injury cases, strict liability law is a unique concept. It most commonly applies in cases involving defective products and dog bites or attacks. In essence, strict liability means that someone is liable no matter what they did to prevent the injury or even if they had no intentions of causing harm.
Proving an injury occurred is enough to satisfy the burden of proof in some personal injury cases, such as those arising from product liability and dog bite claims. However, the victim doesn’t have to prove that the other party did anything wrong or intended to hurt them. With strict liability, the fact that the victim got hurt by an animal, defective product, or an action is enough.
Strict Product Liability
Strict liability and negligence are the basic frameworks that civil courts apply to determine personal injury liability and award damages.
Consumer products such as foods, medicines, tangible goods, and other items are products that companies mass manufacture while keeping customer safety paramount to anything else. Companies are responsible for product defects and compensation to consumers who suffer an injury, property damage, or loss of life as a result of their faulty products.
Civil strict product liability cases are typically either due to a:
- Manufacturing defects that took place during the making of the product
- A design defect in which something about a product’s particular design or concept is unsafe
Strict liability deems manufacturers ultimately responsible in product liability cases, even though they may have taken every measure necessary to protect against an accident or injury. For example, say a hair styling product injured you and the proper manufacturer quality controls were in place. In that case, you may still have a valid claim as the manufacturer remains responsible under strict liability.
All personal injury cases focus on the facts, which begs the question:
- For a manufacturing defect: What happened in the making of this particular product that made it unsafe?
- For a design defect: Was there a reasonably safe substitute that the maker might have used but for some reason didn’t?
No matter the product designer’s or manufacturer’s intent, if the injured person can prove that the answer to these questions is yes, they likely deserve compensation for their injuries. Under the framework of strict liability, the party who designed or the party who manufactured the defective product didn’t have to deliberately hurt someone with their product.
Owning Wild Animals
Individuals who own, transport, or otherwise keep wild animals as pets are held strictly liable by law for any injuries their animals cause. For strict liability, wild animals mean exotic pets such as tigers or chimpanzees. Even if the animal’s owner took all reasonable and necessary precautions and didn’t act in negligence, they are still responsible for any harm their exotic animals cause.
For example, if the wild animal broke loose from the pet owner’s home, was performing tricks for a show, or was being transported. Under the law, it doesn’t matter if the owner or handler took every measure possible. They are liable if their animal hurts someone and can owe the victim compensation for their injuries and damages.
Owning Domestic Animals
Over 30 states, including New York, Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Washington, have strict liability laws regarding dog bites. In these states, it doesn’t matter if the dog had perfect behavior, never biting anyone or even so much as acting viciously. If the dog bites even once, the owner is held strictly liable. This standard can also apply if the dog otherwise injures someone, for instance, if they run up to someone and knock them down, causing an injury.
However, exceptions exist for military and police dogs. Exceptions also apply if the victim was trespassing or, in some cases, if the victim aggravated the dog. Other states like Vermont, New York, Nevada, and Texas have a one-bite rule. Under this rule, if the owner or handler isn’t aware of the dog’s viciousness or propensity to bite, they aren’t generally liable the first time they bite. Instead, the owner will be responsible the next time they injure someone.
Abnormally Dangerous Activities
People who participate in abnormally dangerous activities, such as the use of explosives, maintain strict liability for any injuries arising from that activity. Even if the victim undertook the activity with proper care and no negligence occurred, the very nature of that activity will make them liable.
Is Strict Liability Negligence?
Strict liability isn’t negligence and doesn’t rely on actual negligence. Instead, it arises from the breach of an absolute duty to make or keep something safe. It is different from ordinary negligence because its liability doesn’t require fault. In other words, if someone is held strictly liable for harm caused by another party, they are liable simply because the injury happened. It doesn’t make any difference that the harm incurred to the injured party wasn’t the at-fault party’s fault.
Strict liability for negligence typically involves cases where the victim got injured either by the other party’s animal or by an unusually dangerous activity the other party had undertaken.
The elements required to establish strict liability in a personal injury case are similar to those for negligence. However, you needn’t prove fault or that anyone breached a duty to the injured party.
Instead, the victim must establish that:
- The at-fault party was strictly liable for their actions
- The action caused their injuries (causation)
- They suffered damages (harm) as a result
Remember that the causation and damages elements function in the same way here as they do in the negligence framework.
What Is the Purpose of Strict Liability?
Some persons or parties can be strictly liable for particular activities or products that harm others, even if there is no proof that they acted negligently or with intent to harm the victim. The strict liability framework is essential as it protects the community from dangerous products or activities and provides relief for injuries.
Lawmakers enact strict liability laws to help enforce some of society’s most basic rules and expectations and defend the most vulnerable individuals. Although breaching strict liability often has harsh results, these rules are easy to remember.
- Don’t drive drunk
- Don’t sell alcohol to minors
- Don’t keep wild animals or use explosives unless you are experienced and know what you’re doing.
Strict liability rules exist because if a party makes a defective product, owns an animal, or engages in hazardous activities, it’s only fair for them to pay for the damages they cause. For example, lawmakers believe that a designer or manufacturer has more to do with their product than the victim. If someone must pay for the expenses for the victim’s losses, it’s fairer for the manufacturer to pay than it is for the victim to suffer and be without financial compensation.
Additionally, the injured party may not be in an ideal position to prove what the at-fault party did wrong to cause the accident, such as how they designed the product wrong. In these cases, the at-fault party is typically in control of the evidence, making it difficult for the injured party to obtain it or know if they are being truthful. According to the courts, strict liability rules promote justice.
If your case is a strict liability case, you or your personal injury attorney on your behalf aren’t required to spend time proving the fault of the other party. In a strict liability case, you don’t need to investigate or determine how the accident or injury occurred. Neither do you need to establish where the at-fault party went wrong for the jury. Instead, you must prove only that their actions harmed you.
When strict liability applies to a personal injury case, the victim or their personal injury attorney on their behalf can focus all of their efforts on establishing the damages in their personal injury claim. They must show the link between their injuries and at-fault party’s products, animals, or dangerous activities.
If you are the injured party and strict liability applies to the case, there’s one less thing you need to worry about. However, it’s still crucial to hire a personal injury attorney who can thoroughly prepare to prove all the remaining elements in the case to the jury’s satisfaction.
Strict Liability Law and the Statute of Limitations
The same statute of limitations will apply under your state laws, whether your injuries resulted from strict liability or another type of liability. The statute of limitations imposes a strict deadline for litigating the case to all personal injury claims. In most states, the statute of limitations is between one and four years. So that you don’t miss whatever deadline applies to your case, it’s in your best interest to contact a seasoned personal injury attorney local to you as soon as possible.
If you or your attorney fail to file your legal case by the statute of limitations deadline, you give up your right to pursue compensation for your injuries. It doesn’t matter if your injury arose from strict liability or not. If you file a lawsuit after the deadline, the at-fault party’s attorneys will move the court to dismiss your claim because of the expired statute of limitations.
Keep in mind that the statute of limitations can vary if:
- The injured party is a minor
- The at-fault party leaves the state
- The at-fault party is a government entity or a government employee
When you hire an experienced lawyer, they can determine what deadline applies to your case and work towards negotiating a settlement before that date.
Damages in a Strict Liability Case
Damages in a strict liability case can be the same or nearly the same as in any liability case.
Two types of compensatory damages can apply in a strict liability case:
- Economic damages are also known as special damages. They include the measurable costs of your personal injury, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or income.
- Non-economic damages are also called general damages. These damages represent losses without a predetermined value, including pain, suffering, and emotional distress.
You might have also heard of punitive damages. However, punitive damages aren’t typically applicable to strict liability cases. Whereas compensatory damages work to compensate the victim for their various losses, punitive damages punish an at-fault party for behavior that was incredibly reckless or egregious.
This behavior infers negligence or intentional actions which don’t fit the description of strict liability in a personal injury case. Furthermore, only a judge or a jury can award punitive damages, so they only apply in cases that go to court instead of being resolved by a settlement agreement.
Contact a Knowledgeable Personal Injury Attorney Today
If someone else’s behavior or products cause you injury, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine what types of civil liability may apply. Civil liability laws such as those based on strict liability make it easier to bring your case and obtain full compensation.
If you or a family member has suffered an injury, it’s time to reach out to a knowledgeable personal injury attorney for a free consultation and case evaluation. Even though cases rooted in strict liability don’t require the injured party to prove negligence, they are still frequently complex cases that demand the professional attention of skilled legal counsel.
To receive the compensation you deserve, it’s best to have legal representation who knows what to prove to establish your claim and how best to prove them to the court.
A dog bites and resulting in serious injuries can impact your life in many different ways, including physically and mentally. Do not allow your injuries to have long-term financial effects as well. Instead, protect your future by seeking legal help to begin the injury claim process today.