What is Strict Liability?
Can you think of any scenario where a defendant didn’t intend to cause harm, but their actions posed an obvious risk?
Perhaps you thought of drag racing or keeping exotic animals, like the ones in Tiger King. Though these activities can be entertaining, most people recognize them as abnormal and dangerous in their communities.
When these actions result in injury to another person, it can lead to a specific type of legal case involving strict liability.
Defining Strict Liability
Strict liability is a concept applied in both civil and criminal law that holds a defendant responsible for their actions regardless of their intent at the time of the action.
It means that somebody could be held accountable for a result they never intended.
In other words, a person is strictly liable merely by engaging in certain behaviors, regardless of their criminal intent or possible negligence.
Applications in Criminal Law
Strict liability usually applies to minor criminal offenses but does include possession crimes and statutory rape. In a criminal case, strict liability may result in a lighter punishment. However, it does not alleviate the liability, even if the defendant didn’t know about the crime.
For example, statutory rape is a crime in Georgia. A person who engages in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16 is strictly liable for the crime, regardless of whether the act was consensual or whether they believed the minor to be over the age of 18. They are strictly liable simply for committing the act.
Strict Liability in Civil Cases
In tort cases, strict liability falls under two primary categories and a subcategory, making it a complex issue. The two primary categories involve owning wild animals or engaging in abnormally dangerous activities. Product liability is the subcategory that holds defendants liable for injuries related to defective products.
Possession of Wild Animals
Wild animals should live in the wild, but some people attempt to keep them in domestic situations. However, wild animals have the potential for vicious and unpredictable behaviors that can cause significant damage to people and property.
If you keep a wild or exotic animal and they cause harm to another person or their property, you are liable for the damage. Even if you did nothing wrong and had no idea your animal was dangerous, you are still responsible. This is true even if you took reasonable steps to restrain the animal.
Many states extend this concept of strict liability to domestic pets, namely dogs. Georgia is one of many states to enact a so-called “Dog Bite Statute,” though the rules apply to more than bite-related injuries. Georgia law holds a dog owner strictly liable for injuries their dog causes if the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
Engaging in Abnormally Dangerous Activities
Abnormally dangerous activities qualify for strict liability standards. The activity must be something that most people don’t do regularly and carries a foreseeable risk of injury or property damage, even when participants act reasonably.
Though there may be some overlap, each state sets individual standards regarding abnormally dangerous activities. Typically an abnormally dangerous activity must be uncommon in the community to be considered abnormally dangerous.
Activities involve hazardous materials, nuclear materials, and chemical materials are often considered abnormally dangerous.
Further, the damages could encompass more than physical damage to a person or property. Lost wages, emotional pain, and other losses could factor into a settlement.
Product liability aims to hold parties accountable for damages consumers sustain due to their goods.
It’s important to note that product liability has other applications, but in terms of strict liability, there are two general categories:
- Manufacturing defects, like defective components or unintended additives, that result in damage can lead to lawsuits, even if the manufacturer had no knowledge of the errors.
It’s important to note that these cases could involve negligence or intentional misconduct, but they don’t have to. The strict liability concept holds the defendant responsible even if they did not know about the dangers involved.
How to Prove Strict Liability Cases
To win a strict liability case, you need to prove you were injured and that the other party’s animal, product, or actions caused it. Though strict liability claims seem easier to prove, it’s not always the case, especially with dog bite situations.
Georgia Dog Bite Laws
There are several finer points surrounding strict liability and dog bites. The law sets forth differences between dangerous dogs and average dogs with no history of aggression.
Georgia has a long history of cases related to the dog bite statutes that provide several exceptions and clarification.
Abnormally Dangerous Activities
People can have wildly different views of what constitutes dangerous behavior. However, the plaintiff usually must demonstrate that the activity that injured them was not common in the community and created a high risk of foreseeable harm even when using reasonable care.
Product Liability Cases
It takes a little more effort to win product liability claims.
Generally, courts require the plaintiff to establish three things.
- The product that caused the injury had an unreasonably dangerous defect that occurred during design, production, handling, or shipment.
- The plaintiff used the product the proper way, or in a reasonably foreseeable way.
- There is no evidence that the plaintiff substantially altered the product before use.
Strict liability cases can be complicated due to the intricacies and finer points outlined in the law for each category and subcategory. It may be in your best interest to consult an attorney who has handled similar cases to help you navigate your claim.