In personal injury law, a ‘strict liability’ claim is a claim you can win without even proving that the defendant was at fault. Most personal injury claims are not strict liability claims, but many of them are.
Context: Personal Injury Liability and the Defendant’s Mental State
The defendant’s mental state is normally crucial when determining liability for a personal injury claim or the amount of damages that the defendant must pay the plaintiff. However, this is not the case for strict liability claims, as we’ll discuss below.
But before then, it can be helpful to understand the other kinds of personal injury claims that rely on the defendant’s mental state. The three most common are negligence, recklessness, and intent.
You commit negligent misconduct when you ignore a risk that you should have known about. This is an objective standard. It doesn’t matter whether you actually knew of the risk; you are liable if the hypothetical ‘reasonable person’ would have been aware of it.
Essentially, you are negligent if you are not careful enough. Some examples follow:
- A restaurant fails to promptly clean up a spilled liquid.
- A landlord ignores repeated requests to repair a broken stairwell railing.
- A driver texts while driving.
Negligence is by far the most common basis for personal injury claims.
You behave in a reckless manner if you deliberately ignore a known substantial risk of harming others. This might mean:
- Driving while intoxicated;
- A homeowner sets off large fireworks in a crowded residential neighborhood.
- A driver speeds through a school zone.
Recklessness can justify the imposition of punitive damages, an additional amount that a court assesses against a defendant when their conduct is particularly outrageous. A defendant’s recklessness can also prevent them from using the ‘assumption of risk’ defense.
In an intentional tort, the defendant acted with the purpose of injuring you, or they acted with the certain knowledge that their actions would injure you. Swinging at another person’s head is an example of an intentional tort called ‘assault.’
Strict Liability Claims
You can win a strict liability claim regardless of the defendant’s mental state. The most commonly asserted strict liability claims are product liability claims, dog bite claims, and wild animal attacks.
Product Liability Claims
A product liability claim arises when someone suffers an injury caused by a defective product. You must prove the following elements to win:
- The product was unreasonably dangerous. Dangers that are inherent and unavoidable are not necessarily unreasonable.
- The product contained a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or inadequate product warnings.
- The product must have been in the same condition as it was when it left the defendant’s control.
- The product must have been used as intended.
- You must have suffered an injury.
- The product defect must have caused the injury you suffered.
Because there is no need to prove fault, you can sue anyone in the product’s chain of distribution. You can sue a distributor for a manufacturing defect, for example, even though the distributor did not manufacture the product.
One reason why you don’t need to prove fault to win a product liability claim is that it is often impossible to prove fault directly.
Dog Bite Claims
In Florida, a dog owner is strictly liable for any injuries inflicted by their dog. Some states have a “one-bite rule” that allows an owner to escape liability for a dog bite claim if the dog had never acted aggressively before.
Even holding a dog owner liable in a “one-bite rule” state is a form of strict liability, because it is not necessarily negligent to continue owning a dog even after they have acted aggressively. But Florida is not even a “one-bite rule” state.
The main exceptions to dog bite liability arise if you were trespassing or if you provoked the dog. Even then, you may still be able to pursue a claim – depending on the facts of the case.
Wild Animal Attacks
It is generally illegal to harbor a wild animal without special permission and precautions. If you do harbor a wild animal, whether legally or illegally, you are strictly liable for any injuries it inflicts.
The reason why strict liability applies is similar to the logic for holding dog owners strictly liable—chimpanzees, for example, are inherently dangerous, but you cannot sue one for personal injury.
Similar Concept: Vicarious Liability
Under vicarious liability, one party bears liability for the misconduct of another. An employer, for example, might bear liability for the misconduct of their employee.
This may be the case if their employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of their misconduct, even if the employer was not at fault.
Contact an Experienced St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer
Victory is not guaranteed even if you do have a strict liability claim against someone. If your claim is sizable, hiring the right lawyer will maximize your chances of victory. Don’t worry; most St. Petersburg personal injury lawyers generally don’t charge you legal fees until and unless they win your claim.