Personal Injury Law — What is a Strict Liability Tort?

Personal Injury Law & Strict Products Liability

What is strict liability?

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that applies to certain areas of tort and negligence law. Tort law usually involves a case seeking damages in civil court for injuries caused by others. Strict liability is a concept that deems a person liable for damages in tort, where the person may not have acted negligently or wrongly against the claimant.

With strict liability, the judge/jury may find liability in certain instances against defendants, simply for their position or capacity, and not as a result of their particular actions. Strict liability theory is intended to encourage safe practices by those engaging in actions or behaviors that, by their nature, may be dangerous or harmful. It is based on the concept that certain members of society can and should protect others as a result of their superior position in the relationship.

Torts involving strict liability claims are similar to ordinary negligence claims in that they arise out of a duty, breach of duty and resulting injuries. However, strict liability normally does not require proof of negligence or proof of the defendant's failure to use reasonable care. In the context of strict liability, the courts do not take into account whether the defendant acted in good faith and do not assess whether the conduct was intentional. As a result of the doctrine, it is typically easier for a plaintiff or claimant to prove a case in which a defendant is strictly liable, as the plaintiff is not required to prove the element of "negligence" or carelessness.

When does strict liability apply?

Strict liability applies in many cases in Florida; however, there are a few instances which are most common. Strict "products" liability involves a scenario in which a manufacturer places a defective product into the stream of commerce. In Florida, the manufacturer is considered to be strictly liable for product defects which result in injury due to the ordinary or foreseeable use of the product.  

Another area in which strict liability exists is in cases involving dog bites. In Florida, an owner of a dog is strictly liable for damages resulting from the owner's dog attacking or biting another person, irrespective of whether the owner acted negligently or knew that the dog was potentially dangerous. Some other instances in which the defendant may be held strictly liable include injuries arising out of demolition or explosive activities, injuries from wild animals in captivity on one's property, and those individuals who dig a large hole in the ground without properly barricading the hole or filling it back up.

Can a strict liability case be defended?

Yes. Strict liability does not mean that the defendant is unable to defend the case completely. For instance, in a strict products liability case, the manufacturer is entitled many defenses, including misuse. In such a case, even though the courts do not require the plaintiff to establish the mechanism of negligence, they also do not allow the plaintiff to misuse the product and then seek damages for injuries which result from product misuse.

Strict liability vs. presumptions:

In certain cases, there are evidentiary presumptions which exist in Florida, allowing the plaintiff to establish certain proof without actual evidence or proof of negligence. For instance, in a rear-end collision, the law allows the jury to presume that the driver of the rear vehicle is negligent. However, this is a rebuttable presumption, in that the defendant can establish that it was not negligent; for instance, if the forward vehicle failed to have working brake lights. Rebuttable presumptions are different from strict liability in that they involve evidentiary burden shifting as opposed to presuming legal elements of a cause of action or claim.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you believe that you or a loved one have been involved in a injury case that may involve strict liability such as products liability, dog bite injuries, or other inherently dangerous activities, please contact our personal injury and products liability law office in Gainesville, FL. Find out what your case is worth with the board-certified attorneys of Warner, Sechrest & Butts.