Strict Liability

In law, strict liability is a standard for liability which may exist in either a criminal or civil context. A rule specifying strict liability makes a person legally responsible for the damage and loss caused by his or her acts and omissions regardless of culpability (including fault in criminal law terms, typically the presence of mens rea).

Strict liability is prominent in tort law (especially product liability), corporation’s law, and criminal law. For analysis of the pros and cons of strict liability as applied to product liability, the most important strict liability regime, see product liability.

In tort law, strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent). The claimant need only prove that the tort occurred and that the defendant was responsible.

The law imputes strict liability to situations it considers to be inherently dangerous. It discourages reckless behavior and needless loss by forcing potential defendants to take every possible precaution. It also has the effect of simplifying and thereby expediting court decisions in these cases.

A classic example of strict liability is the owner of a tiger rehabilitation center. No matter how strong the tiger cages are, if an animal escapes and causes damage and injury, the owner is held liable. Another example is a contractor hiring a demolition subcontractor that lacks proper insurance. If the subcontractor makes a mistake, the contractor is strictly liable for any damage that occurs.

In strict liability situations, although the plaintiff does not have to prove fault, the defendant can raise a defense of absence of fault, especially in cases of product liability, where the defense may argue that the defect was the result of the plaintiff’s actions and not of the product, that is, no inference of defect should be drawn solely because an accident occurs.

If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew about the defect before the damages occurred, additional punitive damages can be awarded to the victim in some jurisdictions.

The doctrine’s most famous advocates were Learned Hand, Benjamin Cardozo, and Roger J. Traynor.

Under English and Welsh law, in cases where tortious liability is strict, the defendant will often be liable only for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of his or her act or omission (as in nuisance).

Strict liability is sometimes distinguished from absolute liability. In this context, an actus reus may be excused from strict liability if due diligence is proved. Absolute liability, however, requires only an actus reus.

Bicycle-motor vehicle accidents

A form of strict liability has been supported in law in the Netherlands since the early 1990s for bicycle-motor vehicle accidents. In a nutshell, this means that, in a collision between a car and a cyclist, the driver is deemed to be liable to pay damages and his insurer (n.b. motor vehicle insurance is mandatory in the Netherlands, while cyclist insurance is not) must pay the full damages, as long as 1) the collision was unintentional (i.e. neither party, motorist or cyclist, intentionally crashed into the other), and 2) the cyclist was not in error in some way.

Even if cyclist was in error, as long as the collision was still unintentional, the motorist’s insurance must still pay half of the damages, though this doesn’t apply if the cyclist is under 14 years of age, in which case the motorist must pay full damages for unintentional accidents with minors. If it can be proved that a cyclist intended to collide with the car, then the cyclist must pay the damages (or his/her parents in the case of a minor.)

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By Hassham

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