What Is “Strict Liability”In California Personal Injury Cases?

Strict liability is a legal tenet that allows certain injured persons an easier path to claiming compensation by not requiring the victim to prove the responsible party was negligent.

These can include:

Why Does California Allow Someone To Be Held Liable Even If they Were Not Negligent?

The law provides this exception in certain limited circumstances that are considered so inherently dangerous or hazardous that it is a matter of public policy and safety that a person harmed in such situations have an easier path to claim compensation.

When Is Strict Liability Applied?

Under California law, the court will recognize strict liability under these circumstances:

1

A product with a defect that harmed another person and which the defendant:

  • Designed
  • Manufactured
  • Sold, or
  • Failed to provide an adequate warning 
2

A dog or animal that bites or attacks a person.

3

A particular activity that is inherently or abnormally dangerous.

How Does The Plaintiff Demonstrate Strict Liability?

In order to demonstrate strict liability a plaintiff must show three (3) things:

  1. That the defendant engaged in conduct or an activity that is considered inherently dangerous and unreasonable, or that he or it produced a product that contained an unreasonably dangerous defect.
  2. Show that you were harmed by the conduct, activity or product and that it was the actual and proximate cause of your injury.
  3. You suffered actual damages.

How Does The Court Determine If An Activity Is Inherently Dangerous?

There are certain activities that are considered ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous. Regardless of how much care or attention to safety you may take, the activity cannot be made safe.

These include using explosives such as TNT or dynamite and storing highly toxic or flammable chemicals.

construction worker with dynamite

A court uses 6 factors to determine if an activity is ultrahazardous so that strict liability can be applied to an injury case1:

  1. Did the activity involve a high risk of harm
  2. What is the gravity of the risk
  3. Can the risk be eliminated by the exercise of ordinary care
  4. Is the activity a matter of common usage
  5. Is the activity appropriate to the place where it is carried out
  6. What is the value of the activity to the community

What If The Defendant Did Not Intend To Cause Injury?

The intent of the defendant is irrelevant. 

What Is An Example Of Strict Liability?

Strict liability in everyday situations can be found in the traffic offense of speeding. The county prosecuting you for speeding need not prove you intended to speed, only that the vehicle you were driving exceeded the speed limit.

The harm is that speeding is a major factor in traffic accidents. Whether you intended to speed or were even aware that you were is irrelevant. 

How is Strict Liability Helpful in Injury Cases?

If strict liability is to be applied in your injury case, your evidentiary burden is much lower than in a typical negligence case.

If your case can proceed as one in strict liability, then you need only prove certain elements and not have to obtain evidence proving that the defendant’s conduct was negligent. 

For Example, You Need Only Show The Following In A Dog Bite Case:

What Would You Need To Show In A Product Defect Case?

construction worker with dynamite

In product defect cases, you need only show that

  • A defect existed, and
  • That you used the product as it was intended to be used, it was not altered, and,
  • You were injured nonetheless as a result of the defect. 

What Would You Need To Show If Injured By Dangerous Chemicals?

If injured by dangerous chemicals or because a construction company was using explosives and you were struck by flying debris, then you need only show that you were injured by that activity. 

All of these scenarios only require a minimal showing of certain evidence to demonstrate a prima facie case of strict liability.

Once you have established the prima facie case, the burden of proof now shifts to the defendant who must prove that you were careless in how you used the product, or that you used it in a manner not intended nor foreseen by the defendant, or that the product was altered after it left the manufacturer2. 

Final Thoughts

Strict Liability cases can be very advantageous for victims when seeking compensation.

What Damages Can You Recover In A Strict Liability Case?

If you’re injured in a case that falls under strict liability rules, you can receive the following compensation.

  • Medical bills,
  • lost wages
  • pain and suffering

These are some of the common types of damages that are awarded.

If you have been injured please contact us for a free consultation at 818-351-955.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 

Footnotes

  1. Langan v. Valicoptors, Inc. 567 P.2d 218 []
  2. Campbell v. Southern Pacific Co. (1978) 22 Cal.3d 51, 56 []