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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/her acts and omissions regardless of culpability (including fault in criminal law terms, typically the presence of mens rea). Under strict liability, there is no requirement to prove fault, negligence or intention. 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.
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. 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. A more everyday example is that of a passenger on public transport who was unable to purchase a valid ticket for the journey due to extraneous circumstances. Under strict liability it does not matter if the ticket machine was broken, or the train was early, or there were no staff at the counter. The legal responsibility for holding a valid ticket falls on the passenger and the passenger should not have travelled without one regardless of the circumstances.
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. 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.
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.
Bicycle–motor vehicle accidents
A form of strict liability has been supported in law in the Netherlands since the early 1990s for bicycle-motor vehicle accidents. In a nutshell, this means that, in a collision between a car and a cyclist, the driver is deemed to be liable to pay damages and his insurer (n.b. motor vehicle insurance is mandatory in the Netherlands, while cyclist insurance is not) must pay the full damages, as long as 1) the collision was unintentional (i.e. neither party, motorist or cyclist, intentionally crashed into the other), and 2) the cyclist was not in error in some way. Even if cyclist was in error, as long as the collision was still unintentional, the motorist's insurance must still pay half of the damages, though this does not apply if the cyclist is under 14 years of age, in which case the motorist must pay full damages for unintentional accidents with minors. If it can be proved that a cyclist intended to collide with the car, then the cyclist must pay the damages (or his parents in the case of a minor.).
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 posted speed limit.
In the United States 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 (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".
Strict liability laws can also prevent defendants from raising diminished mental capacity defenses, since intent does not need to be proven.
- Command responsibility
- Due diligence
- Public liability
- Restatement of Torts, Second
- Vicarious liability
- 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.
- Hinckley v. La Mesa R.V. Center, Inc., 158 Cal. App.3d 630, 205 Cal. Rptr. 22 (1984)
- Mark Wagenbuur (21 February 2013). "Strict liability in the Netherlands". BicycleDutch website. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
- Lee, Cynthia (2009). Criminal Law Cases and Materials. F. Strict Liability Crimes: WEST A Thomas Reuters Business. pp. 219–221;989. ISBN 9780314151285.
- Joel Samaha (briefed by) (June 9, 2001). "Garnett v. State". Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Retrieved September 14, 2011.