What Is Strict Liability?

By Peter DePaolis

Most personal injury claims impose a burden of proof on the plaintiff, or injured party. As an accident victim, you or your DC personal injury lawyer will have to prove the defendant’s negligence to qualify for financial compensation. Without proof of negligence, or a breach of duty of care, you will not receive anything for your damages. In cases involving the legal doctrine of strict liability, however, the rules are different. You may not have to prove negligence to receive compensation in a strict liability case.

Defining Strict Liability

Liability refers to someone’s legal responsibility. The term is frequently used in a civil justice context. One person may be liable for another person’s losses or damages if the former caused them. Typically, product liability for a personal injury is contingent upon the defendant (the allegedly at-fault party) being guilty of some act of negligence or recklessness that caused the damages in question. For example, a defendant might be liable for your medical bills if the defendant drove drunk and caused your injuries. Strict liability, on the other hand, is not contingent upon negligence.

A defendant might have to pay for your damages even if he or she was not negligent under the rule of strict liability. Strict liability holds a person legally and financially responsible for an accident regardless of fault. This doctrine states that a person or entity will be strictly liable, with or without proof of negligence or a breach of duty of care, under certain circumstances. As the injured party, you will not need to demonstrate proof of fault, negligence, intent or even the defendant’s awareness of the issue to collect compensation. Only specific types of personal injury claims will enact the rules of strict liability, however.

When Does Strict Liability Apply?

The average personal injury claim will not use strict liability laws. Instead, you will have an obligation to prove negligence if you wish to win compensation as the injured party. In some scenarios, however, you may be able to institute the rule of strict liability to skip the burden of proof. An attorney can help you determine whether strict liability will apply to a specific case and situation.

For instance, most product-related lawsuits use strict product liability rules. Under federal law, consumer goods manufacturers and distributors will be strictly liable for injuries their products cause. This rule helps motivate manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products. If a defective or dangerously designed product injures you, the manufacturer of that product will most likely owe you compensation, even if the manufacturer did not breach a duty of care. Simply creating and releasing a defective product that injures a consumer will be enough to make the company liable for related damages.

Another type of lawsuit that commonly enacts the strict liability law is a dog bite case. Many states have strict liability dog bite laws that hold pet owners automatically responsible for any injuries or damages their dogs cause, regardless of fault. In strict liability states, a dog owner will have to pay for a victim’s damages even if he or she took reasonable steps to prevent the attack. As long as the defendant owns the dog, and the dog caused the damages in question, the defendant will have to pay, even without any proof of negligence.

Negotiating a Strict Liability Case

It is hard for the average plaintiff to navigate a personal injury claim alone. Without a personal injury lawyer’s input, you may not fully understand your rights under your state’s liability and strict liability laws. With a lawyer’s assistance, on the other hand, you can recognize when strict liability laws might apply and adjust your legal strategy accordingly. A Fairfax personal injury lawyer can help you build a solid case against the defendant based on all related laws and statutes, including strict liability, if applicable.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.