Strict Liability

  • Theory of strict liability started with Rylands v. Fletcher (1868 England).
  • Defendant’s liability for strict liability is without regard to: Fault, Foreseeability, Standard of Care or Causation.
  • Liability is based on abnormally dangerous activities.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities
Defendant is strictly liable for an “abnormally dangerous activity” if:

  • Activity involves serious potential harm;
  • Activity involves high degree of risk that cannot be made safe; and
  • Activity is not commonly performed in the community or area.

Wild Animals
Persons who keep wild animals are strictly liable for injuries caused by the beast.
Persons who keep domestic animals are liable if the owner knew or should have known that animal was dangerous.

Product Liability
Product Liability is not a new tort.
Liability can be based on:

  • Negligence;
  • Misrepresentation;  or
  • Strict Liability;
  • Warranty Theory.

Product Liability (Negligence)
Negligence-based product liability is based on a manufacturer’s breach of the reasonable standard of care and failing to make a product safe.
Case 6.1: Jarvis v. Ford Motor Co. (2002)
Manufacturer must exercise “due care” in:

  • Designing products.
  • Manufacturing and Assembling Products.
  •  Inspecting and Testing Products; and
  • Placing adequate warning labels.

Manufacturers, who violate state or federal law in the manufacture or labeling of a product, may be negligent per se.
No privities of contract required between Plaintiff and Manufacturer. Liability extends to any person’s injuries caused by a negligently made (defective) product.

Product Liability (Misrepresentation)

  • Occurs when fraud committed against consumer or user of product.
  • Fraud must have been made knowingly or with reckless disregard for safety.
  • Plaintiff does not have to show product was defective.

Strict Product Liability

Manufacturers liable without regard to fault based on public policy.

  • Consumers must be protected from unsafe products.
  • Manufacturers should be liable to any user of the product.
  • Manufacturers, sellers and distributors can bear the costs of injuries.

Requirements for strict liability:
Product is unreasonably dangerous when sold Defendant sells the product.
Plaintiff injured by use or consumption of product and defective condition is the proximate cause of injury.
Case 6.2:Greenman v.Yuba Power Products (1962).

Requirements for Strict Product Liability.
Plaintiff must show product was so “defective” it was “unreasonably dangerous”:

  • Product must be in defective condition when sold.
  • Defendant is in the business of selling the product.
  • Product must be unreasonably dangerous.
  • Plaintiff must be physically harmed.
  • Defective condition must be proximate cause of injury.
  • Good are in substantially same condition.

Market Share Liability
Theory of liability when multiple Defendants contributed to manufacture of defective product.
Liability of each Defendant is proportionate to the share of the market held by each respective Defendant.

Product Defects
Three types of product defects.

  • Manufacturing defects.
  • Design defects.
  • Warning Defects

Strict Liability: Manufacturing Defects
Occurs when a product “departs from its intended design even though all possible care was exercised in the preparation and marketing of the product.”

Strict Liability: Design Defects
Occurs when the “foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative, and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.”

Strict Liability: Warning Defects
A product may be defective because of inadequate warnings or instructions.
Liability based on Foreseeability that proper instructions/labels would have made the product safe to use.
Case 6.3: Liriano v. Hobart Co. (1999).

Warning Defects
There is no duty to warn about obvious or commonly known risks.
Seller must also warn about injury due to product misuse. Key is whether misuse was foreseeable.

Defenses to Product Liability

  • Assumption of Risk.
  • Product Misuse (Plaintiff does not know the product is dangerous for a particular use).
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence.

Case 6.4: Smith v. Ingersoll-Rand Co(2000).

  • Commonly known dangers.
  • Statutes of Limitation.