Strict liability

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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), 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[edit source | edit]

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Criminal law[edit source | edit]

The concept of strict liability is also found in criminal law, though the same or similar concept may appear in contexts where the term itself is not used. Strict liability often applies to vehicular traffic offenses. In a speeding case, for example, whether the defendant knew that the posted speed limit was being exceeded is irrelevant. The prosecutor would need to prove only that the defendant was operating the vehicle in excess of the speed limit.

Strict liability can be determined by looking at the intent of the legislature. If the legislature seems to have purposefully left out a mental state element (mens rea) because they felt mental state need not be proven, it is treated as a strict liability. However, when a statute is silent as to the mental state (mens rea) and it is not clear that the legislature purposely left it out, the ordinary presumption is that a mental state is required for criminal liability. When no mens rea is specified, under the Model Penal Code or MPC, the default mens rea requirement is recklessness, which the MPC defines as "when a person consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk with respect to a material element".[3]

Strict liability laws can also prevent defendants from raising diminished mental capacity defenses, since intent does not need to be proven.[4]

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Cantú, Charles E. (January 2, 2002). "Distinguishing the Concept of Strict Liability for Ultra-Hazardous Activities from Strict Liability Under Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts: Two Parallel Lines of Reasoning that Should Never Meet" (PDF). University of Akron Law Review (University of Akron School of Law). Retrieved May 2, 2012. 
  2. ^ Hinckley v. La Mesa R.V. Center, Inc., 158 Cal. App.3d 630, 205 Cal. Rptr. 22 (1984)
  3. ^ Lee, Cynthia (2009). Criminal Law Cases and Materials. F. Strict Liability Crimes: WEST A Thomas Reuters Business. pp. 219–221;989. ISBN 9780314151285. 
  4. ^ Joel Samaha (briefed by) (June 9, 2001). "Garnett v. State". Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Retrieved September 14, 2011.