What Is Strict Liability Law, and How Does It Affect Your Personal Injury Claim?

Liability often comes up when dealing with personal injury claims. To file a claim, you must show that the other party bears liability for the accident—that the accident occurred due to the negligent, careless, or dangerous actions of the other party. In some Nevada personal injury claims, strict liability applies. What exactly is strict liability, and how does it impact your claim?

Strict Liability: Defined

Strict liability applies to both criminal and civil cases. It states that the person found strictly liable bears liability for those actions—and will face the penalties associated with them—regardless of the liable party’s intent.

In essence, it determines that the party that caused the accident will face the penalties associated with those actions regardless of whether the liable party intended to create a serious hazard with those negligent actions. Fundamentally, strict liability means that the party that engages in highly dangerous acts can face liability for those actions even if the liable party did not intend a criminal action or act of negligence.

Defective Products and Strict Liability

Often, the courts hold product manufacturers strictly liable for any damage caused by their products. Generally speaking, if a product turns out defective, even if the manufacturer did not intend an act of negligence, and that defective product causes an injury, the manufacturer of that product can face liability for any injuries caused by that defective product.

Suppose, for example, that the battery compartment on a toy has a flaw that causes the toys to burst into flames unexpectedly. The manufacturer does not know about that flaw and, indeed, recalls the toy as soon as these accidents appear. Meanwhile, both parents or children may suffer serious burns because of the defective product, having no knowledge of the defect in the toy.

The manufacturer may bear liability for those burn injuries, although the manufacturer had no way to know that the product would cause a serious injury. Likewise, each year, manufacturers recall many vehicles because of unexpected defects. Vehicle manufacturers frequently end up bearing liability for any damage caused by defective vehicles, from vehicles that catch on fire in the driveway to vehicles that suffer steering or brake failure while out on the road.

If the manufacturer knew about a potential hazard, on the other hand, and did nothing to fix it or prevent the product from reaching customers, the manufacturer may face additional charges or penalties.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

Some activities pose a risk for everyone. Those activities create more risk for everyone around the person engaging in those activities, even those who would not choose, on their own, to participate. Common abnormally dangerous activities include using hazardous materials, using nuclear materials, or working with known hazardous chemicals.

Suppose, for example, that a tanker truck crashes on the road in front of your vehicle, spilling hazardous chemicals on the roadway. Simply driving through the area exposes you to caustic fumes and results in serious consequences, including breathing problems or chemical burns. The company that manufactures or chooses to transport that material may bear liability for the injuries you sustained, even though the company took steps to safely secure the chemical in a tanker truck.

To determine whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, an attorney might ask:

  • Does the activity cause danger in a way that does not include common usage? For example, driving a car can endanger everyone in the area, but most people drive cars safely.  However, if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs this is an abnormally dangerous activity.
  • Does the activity create a significant risk of physical harm even when everyone involved takes all possible safety precautions? Consider, for example, a case in which a business chooses to store explosives in an area customers can enter. Even if the business takes safety precautions, those hazardous materials could still endanger everyone.
  • Is the likelihood of physical harm higher in this case than normal? Generally speaking, if the likelihood of physical harm rises, it could increase liability for the party that caused the accident.

How Does Strict Liability Change a Personal Injury Claim?

In a traditional personal injury claim, an attorney will ask questions to help determine who may bear liability for the accident and, as a result, who you might need to sue to seek compensation for any injuries you sustained.

A traditional personal injury claim requires your attorney to know:

  • Who bore a duty of care to you—that is, who had some responsibility to protect you from the accident.
  • Who committed an act that violated that duty of care. Generally speaking, that violation usually, in a traditional personal injury claim, includes an act of negligence on the part of the liable party. Sometimes, that act of negligence occurs because of carelessness: failing to come to a complete stop in a vehicle because the other driver’s foot slips on the pedal. Other times, the act of negligence may involve a deliberate act by the liable party: speeding or checking a phone while driving, for example.
  • How that act of negligence led to the victim’s injuries. For example, did the liable driver whose foot slipped on the brake pedal rear-end another vehicle, resulting in injuries to the driver or passengers in that vehicle? Did a driver check their cell phone and drift out of their lane, causing a serious accident?
  • What direct damages the injured party suffered because of those negligent actions.

In a strict liability claim, however, the claim may look a little different.

It does not matter whether the party in a strict liability claim committed a negligent act.

In many personal injury claims, the negligence of the liable party forms the basis of the claim. For example, in a car accident claim, the injured party can only file a car accident claim if they can establish that the other driver’s negligence, not their own, causes a serious injury.

If a driver slides off the road due to an act of nature, like a falling tree, another driver will not bear liability for that accident. Likewise, a driver who suffered serious injuries because they slid off the road into a ditch in a storm might not have the right to pursue compensation from another party, since no negligent action exists.

In a strict liability claim, the party that caused the injuries needn’t have committed a negligent act. Instead, a strict liability claim simply establishes that the liable party committed an act that put the other party in danger, even if no actual negligence took place and the liable party had no way of knowing that those dangerous acts could result in serious injury for someone else.

Proving Liability in a Product Accident

Product liability claims make up a large percentage of strict liability incidents. Manufacturers bear liability for any injuries caused by their products when used correctly, regardless of whether they knew about a potential defect in the product or had any reason to suspect that the product could cause a serious injury to anyone.

However, in product-related accidents, an attorney will still need to establish clear evidence regarding that product and its use that will help establish the plaintiff’s right to file a personal injury claim against the product manufacturer.

The product acquired a dangerous defect during the manufacturing process, including design, production, handling, or shipping.

For example, a product that suffers serious damage in shipping then breaks when the customer tries to use it, could have an unreasonable design defect or be built with substandard materials. That design defect could be more dangerous if the user cannot see the potential dangers in the design before using the product.

Defects can occur at multiple points in the manufacturing process. Sometimes, they occur from a design problem: the manufacturer creates a product with an inherent flaw. Many vehicles, for example, have flaws that the manufacturer does not discover until they start causing serious problems.

Some vehicles may unexpectedly catch fire, or the driver may lose control of the steering due to a product defect. Those defects can cause serious dangers and result in accidents with significant injuries. During the production process, flaws could mar the product: defective materials, for example, or flawed molds that turn out damaged pieces. Like design flaws, production flaws may conceal themselves until the user actively starts to use the product.

The plaintiff used the product according to the intended use.

Some products have highly specific uses—and the manufacturer may clearly state ways in which the user cannot safely use the product to ensure their safety. For example, hairdryers carry warnings that state that the user should not use them in the bathtub or shower, or expose the hairdryer to water. If a consumer uses the hairdryer in the water, despite the manufacturer’s instructions, and causes electrocution, the manufacturer does not bear liability for the user’s hazardous decision.

On the other hand, if the user plugged the hairdryer into a wall outlet far away from a water source, and the hairdryer never came anywhere near the water, but the user suffers electrocution injuries or burns while using the product, the user may have grounds for a product liability claim against the manufacturer.

Manufacturers must also consider “reasonably foreseeable ways” in which users might choose to use their products. For example, artists may use a hairdryer in an arts and crafts project to melt crayons. If the hairdryer malfunctions during that use and causes serious burns due to overheating, the user may still have grounds for a product liability claim, even if they did not use the hairdryer according to its initial intent.

The product left the manufacturer with that flaw in place.

Many product flaws occur once the product leaves the manufacturer. For example, suppose that a product gets dropped during shipping or before it makes it to the floor. The fall damages internal circuits, ultimately causing injury when someone uses it. In that case, the party that made the error, generally either the shipping provider or the store where the product ultimately went on the shelves, might bear liability for the damaged product, but not the manufacturer not.

Likewise, the manufacturer would not bear liability for a product damaged by the buyer, even if the buyer did not deliberately cause that damage. Suppose, for example, that the buyer dropped the product, causing it to malfunction; or that the buyer inadvertently put a product too close to a heat source, causing unanticipated damage to it that resulted in a dangerous malfunction or even explosion. In those cases, the buyer, not the manufacturer, would bear liability for those injuries.

The plaintiff did not alter the product substantially before using it.

For the product manufacturer to bear liability for the product, the plaintiff must have used the original, manufactured product rather than altering it substantially before use. For example, if a consumer significantly altered their vehicle, installing parts that did not come from the manufacturer, and those parts caused a brake failure or steering challenge, the vehicle manufacturer would not bear liability for that accident.

Strict liability claims can make it easier, in some cases, for a victim of serious injuries to seek the compensation needed for those injuries. If you have grounds for a personal injury claim against a party that bears strict liability for its actions, an attorney can help you. Contact an attorney as soon after the incident as possible for a free consultation.

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