Negligence vs Strict Liability


If an intentional wrong has been committed against you, or if someone engaged in an activity which they knew would cause you harm, you may be able to file both civil and criminal charges against them. But if someone has committed an unintentional wrong against you because of negligence or recklessness, there are different standards of liability that the wrongdoer may be held to.

You may consider filing a claim for negligence if it can be shown that the wrongdoer could have prevented the harm but failed to do so. In some instances, including but not limited to cases of product liability and dog bites, the wrongdoer may be held strictly liable for your harm, which means that you may have a claim against the wrongdoer regardless of whether malice or even “intent” were involved.

If the doctrine of strict liability applies to your case, you may only need to show that you were caused the harm and that the defendant was responsible, even if the defendant acted in good faith or took all possible precautions. For this reason, strict liability is sometimes referred to as absolute liability.

The principle behind strict liability is that although some activities are so dangerous that even reasonable people cannot make them safe, they are still necessary. Strict liability often applies in cases involving dangerous activities such as excavating, blasting, and defective products. For example, if a contactor hires a subcontractor without proper insurance to demolish a building, if the subcontractor makes a mistake, the contractor may be held strictly liable for any resulting damage.

The strict liability standard is often used in product liability law, which evolved from contact law. Written contract law can be traced back to ancient Rome, in which it was agreed that there were two kinds of obligation: those arising by agreement (contract law), and those arising out of a wrong (tort). For a long time, the general rule became that someone with whom the manufacturer did not have a contract could not sue the manufacturer for negligence. This has come to be known as the “rule of privity”.

In 1913, however, the Washington Supreme Court added an exception to the rule of privity by affirming that anyone injured by a food product had a right to sue the manufacturer for breach of an implied warranty that the food was safe. This was the beginning of modern product liability and the application of strict liability in certain circumstances.

Another example of where strict liability might be applied would be with an inherently dangerous product.  So, for example, if someone was injured by dynamite, the owner of the dynamite might be held liable even if he did everything in his power to avoid injury.

Please contact a personal injury lawyer for information about your legal rights if you or a loved one has been injured in an accident or by a defective product.