Important Differences Between Strict Liability and Absolute Liability

Recently updated on August 20th, 2023 at 11:51 am

Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal principle that holds a person or entity responsible for damages or injuries caused by their actions, regardless of whether they were negligent or intended to cause harm. This means that even if a person or entity took all reasonable precautions to prevent harm, they can still be held liable if an accident or injury occurs. This principle is often applied in cases involving dangerous products or activities, such as manufacturing defects or environmental hazards.

The concept of strict liability has its roots in the common law system, with its origins dating back to the 19th century. The first case in which strict liability was applied in the United States was Rylands v. Fletcher in 1868. In this case, the court held a landowner liable for a flood caused by an artificial reservoir on his property, even though the flood was caused by an unexpected event and the landowner had not been negligent.

In the early 20th century, courts began to apply strict liability in cases involving dangerous products. The landmark case in this area was MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. in 1916, in which the court held the manufacturer liable for injuries caused by a defect in one of its cars, even though the company had not been negligent.

Over the course of the 20th century, courts continued to expand the scope of strict liability to cover a wide range of activities and industries, including construction, environmental hazards, and pharmaceuticals. Today, strict liability is widely recognized as a principle of law in the United States and many other jurisdictions.

Examples of Strict Liability

Here are a few examples of situations where strict liability may be applied:

Dangerous products: If a consumer is injured by a defect in a product, the manufacturer and/or sellers may be held strictly liable for the damages, even if they were not negligent in designing, manufacturing or selling the product.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Some activities are deemed inherently dangerous and require special precautions. If an activity is considered “abnormally dangerous,” any damages caused by it may be the responsibility of the person or entity that engaged in the activity, regardless of whether they were negligent or not. Examples include blasting, keeping wild animals, and storing hazardous materials.

Environmental hazards: Companies that engage in activities that may cause environmental damage, such as oil spills or chemical leaks, may be held strictly liable for any resulting harm to the environment or to people living nearby.

Animal Attack: If a person’s pet or wild animal causes harm to another person, the animal’s owner may be held strictly liable for the damages, even if they had no reason to believe the animal would attack.

Defective Buildings: A landlord or builder may be held strictly liable if a tenant or visitor is injured by a defect in the building, even if the landlord or builder was not aware of the defect.

These are just a few examples, and laws vary between different jurisdictions. It’s important to note that strict liability is a legal principle, and the

Types of Strict Liability

There are generally two types of strict liability:

  1. Absolute liability: This type of strict liability imposes responsibility for damages or injuries caused by a person or entity’s actions, regardless of whether the person or entity was negligent or intended to cause harm. Absolute liability is often applied in cases involving dangerous products or activities that are considered inherently risky, such as manufacturing defects, environmental hazards, and dangerous animals.
  2. Relative liability: This type of strict liability is less strict than absolute liability. In relative liability, a person or entity may be held responsible for damages or injuries caused by their actions, but only if they were negligent or acted recklessly. This type of strict liability is often applied in cases involving activities or products that are not inherently dangerous, such as construction defects or medical malpractice.

Principles of Strict Liability

The principles of strict liability are:

  • Causation: The person or entity held liable under strict liability must have caused the injury or damage.
  • No fault: Strict liability holds the person or entity responsible for the injury or damage without the need to prove fault or negligence.
  • Limited liability: Strict liability may only apply in certain circumstances, such as when a product is defective or an activity is considered abnormally dangerous.
  • No defense of due care: A person or entity held liable under strict liability cannot defend themselves by arguing that they took all reasonable precautions to prevent the injury or damage.
  • Limited scope of liability: The scope of liability under strict liability is generally limited to the injury or damage caused by the person or entity’s actions.
  • Strict liability is not absolute but relative: The extent of strict liability may depend on the circumstances of the case, the type of activity or product involved, and the jurisdiction in which the case is heard.

Important Differences Between Strict Liability and Absolute Liability

Feature Strict Liability Absolute Liability
Definition Liability imposed without the need to prove fault or negligence. Liability imposed regardless of fault or negligence.
Examples Abnormally dangerous activities, such as operating a hazardous waste disposal site. Nuclear accidents, pollution, and other activities that pose a grave danger to the public.
Defense Possible defenses include: assumption of the risk, contributory negligence, and statutory immunity. No defense is possible.
Burden of Proof Plaintiff must prove that the defendant engaged in the activity that caused the harm. No need to prove fault or negligence on the part of the defendant.

Key Differences Between Strict Liability and Absolute Liability

Strict liability and absolute liability are both legal concepts that hold individuals or organizations responsible for certain harms or damages, but they differ in the degree of fault required for liability to be imposed.

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds individuals or organizations liable for certain harms or damages regardless of fault or intent. This means that even if the individual or organization took all reasonable precautions to prevent the harm or damage, they can still be held liable.

Absolute liability, on the other hand, is a legal doctrine that holds individuals or organizations strictly liable for certain harms or damages without any exceptions. This means that regardless of the precautions taken, an individual or organization can be held liable for the harm or damage caused.

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