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Strict liability makes a person responsible for the damage and loss caused by his/her acts and omissions regardless of culpability (or fault in criminal law terms, which would normally be expressed through a mens rea requirement; see Strict liability (criminal)). Strict liability is important in torts (especially product liability), corporations 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.


Tort law

In tort law, strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent[1]). The plaintiff needs to prove only that the tort happened and that the defendant was responsible. Strict liability is imposed for legal infractions that are malum prohibitum rather than malum in se, therefore, neither good faith nor the fact that the defendant took all possible precautions are valid defenses. Strict liability often applies to those engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous ventures.

Strict liability is distinct from absolute liability. In absolute liability, only a guilty act, or actus reus is required. With strict liability, a guilty act is only required also no Mens Rea in needed to be proved. In strict liability situations, although the plaintiff does not have to prove fault, the defendant can raise a defense of absence of fault.

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.

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 litigation and allowing the victim to become whole more quickly.

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

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

Criminal law

The concept of strict liability is also found in criminal law, though to a lesser extent. Strict liability often applies to vehicular traffic offenses. In a speeding case, for example, whether the defendant knew he or she was exceeding the posted speed limit is irrelevant. The prosecutor would need only prove that the defendant was indeed operating the vehicle in excess of the speed limit.

Strict liability laws can also prevent defendants from raising diminished mental capacity defenses - since intent does not need to be proven. [2]

See also


"Garnett v. State" briefed by Joel Samaha, Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, June 9, 2001, retrieved July 30, 2006



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