What is strict liability?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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While most claims for personal injuries are based on the theory of negligence, personal injury claims involving activities that are inherently dangerous are sometimes litigated under the legal theory of strict liability.

What Is Strict Liability?

The theory of strict liability means that by law, a person will be held responsible for their actions, no matter what the circumstances of the accident are. In order to recover damages under a strict liability theory, a plaintiff only needs to show that the injury occurred, and that the defendant’s actions caused it. This means that the party who is in charge of the activity causing injury will almost always be held responsible for any injuries incurred because of the activity. Strict liability is common in lawsuits for injuries cased by defective products, dangerous activities, or dangerous animals.

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How Strict Liability Changes a Personal Injury Claim

The common standard for strict liability cases is whether or not the activity in question is inherently dangerous. Inherently dangerous activities are not necessarily illegal activities. On the contrary, they can include things that are beneficial for society, such as using explosives to demolish a building, or blasting land to construct roads or buildings. Because of the increased likelihood for injury, the law allows an injured party to recover damages more easily than in a negligence case.

When it comes to injuries caused by animals, the law typically requires the pet owner be aware of the danger the animal can cause. For example, if wild tiger kept on display for a circus act got loose, the circus would be liable for any injuries caused by the tiger. This is true even if it were shown that they took every precaution possible to keep the animal locked up. Strict liability can also apply to animals that are less obviously dangerous, like a pet dog that is aggressive. Dog owners who know that their dog has a propensity to bite or attack can be held strictly liable anytime the dog injures another individual.

The law favors this approach because parties injured by an inherently dangerous activity shouldn’t be left without compensation because there wasn’t negligent behavior, and because the higher burden imposed on people who are in charge of inherently dangerous activities should result in a higher level of precaution. Insurance companies that insure people or entities involved in inherently dangerous activities will generally have strict guidelines to follow to decrease the risk of accidents.

Can You Defend a Strict Liability Claim?

Some injuries incurred from inherently dangerous activities, such as sports, are not generally litigated under the theory of strict liability. Additionally, many states impose the doctrine of assumption of risk onto the party who knowingly exposes themselves to the risks of an inherently dangerous activity by trespassing or agreeing to accept the consequences of their behavior beforehand. Assumption of risk may limit, or prevent, recovery, however, this will depend on the facts of the individual case.

Getting Legal Help with Strict Liability

If you believe that your injury was caused by a business or during an activity that contains an inherent risk, contact a local personal injury attorney. If you take the time to choose the right attorney, he or she can discuss your options regarding strict liability and help you file a personal injury claim to legally recover damages for your injuries.

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