Most people are familiar with the concept of liability. It’s when someone is held financially responsible for something – generally either by agreement or court order.
In a personal injury context, liability often refers to who is at fault for an accident. In the case of a car accident or a slip and fall accident, for example, there is usually a negligent party who is held liable for the injured party’s damages.
Strict liability is a bit different and refers to when a party can be held financially responsible without the plaintiff having to prove negligence or intent to harm.
How Does Strict Liability Apply in Personal Injury Cases?
Most personal injury cases are based on negligence. However, strict liability laws allow victims to recover compensation even when the party responsible for the harm wasn’t negligent.
Generally, in California, you may be able to obtain compensation under the theory of strict liability in two main situations:
- You were injured by a defective product
- You were bit by a dog
You may not have to prove negligence in these cases, but that doesn’t mean that getting money for physical injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering will be easy. There are still legal standards that must be met. And you’ll still have to justify the expenses associated with your injuries or property damage.
Strict Liability for Dog Bites
Under California’s dog bite law, a dog’s owner is liable for damages for someone bitten by the dog if:
- The bite occurs in a public place
- The bite occurs while the victim is lawfully on private property, including the owner’s property
The dog owner is held liable regardless of the dog’s past vicious behavior or the owner’s knowledge of that behavior. This is different from states with a “one-bite rule,” which could allow an owner off the hook if they weren’t aware that their dog was aggressive.
There may be exceptions, as in any injury case. For example, if a police officer’s dog bit you while you were being pursued for a crime, you can’t sue the city police department.
Strict Liability for Defective Products
Recalls get some dangerous products off the market, but often not before harm or death is caused. In 2019, one study found that the number of child deaths caused by harmful products prior to recall was the highest in 19 years. But many non-recalled hazardous products remain on shelves every day in department stores and home improvement stores.
In general, a victim injured by a defective product may be able to receive compensation if:
- The defendant manufactured, distributed, or sold a product that
- Contained a design defect;
- Contained a manufacturing defect; or
- Had inadequate warnings or instructions.
Under California’s strict liability law, a defendant can be held financially responsible for injuries caused by a defective product even if all due care was taken in the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing process.
However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have obstacles to recovering compensation if you’re injured by a defective product. These cases are often complex due to the number of parties involved in the process of getting a product on the market. Many product liability cases involve some combination of negligence and strict liability theories.
Why Do You Still Need a Lawyer if the Defendant is Strictly Liable?
If you don’t have to prove negligence or fault, you might wonder why you need a lawyer in a case involving strict liability.
You still need an experienced attorney to ensure that you are in the best position to receive the compensation you deserve.
You Still Have to Prove Legal Elements of Your Case
If you were injured by a defective product, for example, you’ll still need to prove:
- The product was defective
- The defendant manufactured, distributed, or marketed the product
- You used the product as directed or in a way that was reasonably foreseeable
- Your injuries were caused by the defective product
What party or parties were responsible for the defect? Was it the design company? The manufacturer? The retailer? Multiple parties? The answers to these questions are important because they determine whether strict liability applies or whether you must pursue a negligence claim (or both).
Likewise, if you were attacked by a dog, you may still have to prove:
- Ownership of the dog
- The extent of your injuries
- You were legally on the property
- That you didn’t provoke the dog
In any case, you’ll get lots of pushback from the insurance company trying to settle your claim. The party responsible for your injuries will have an attorney putting up a strong defense. By getting an aggressive lawyer to stand up for you, you’ll have a much better chance of being on equal footing. And that means a better chance of successfully obtaining financial compensation for your injuries.