Strict Liability: Responsibility Without Fault


It is a widely accepted notion that a person who has acted wrongfully is responsible for adverse consequences resulting therefrom. However, under strict liability, legal responsibility may be imposed on one who has acted even without fault. Even in the absence of negligence or fault, one may be held responsible for adverse consequences of his actions under strict liability.

As discussed in a previous edition of this article, the theory of strict liability is commonly applied in products liability cases. Under products liability, anyone in a product’s chain of distribution may be held liable for injuries caused by a defective product. In addition to products liability, strict liability is commonly applied in situations where one is engaged in ultrahazardous activities which expose others to unusual risks. In addition, strict liability is often applied in activities involving the custody of animals with dangerous propensities.

An activity is considered ultrahazardous if it unavoidably entails a substantial risk of harm to person or property, and such risk cannot be eliminated even with exercising the utmost care. Negligence or fault on the part of those persons involved in such an activity need not be shown for responsibility to attach. The person involved in an ultrahazardous activity is not deemed negligent or having fault simply by choosing to be involved in such an activity, despite the substantial risk of harm, because in some sense the activity is beneficial, useful, or necessary to society. For example, owners and operators of oil tankers are strictly liable for oil spills arising from their acts without regard to fault in that the activity they are involved in have a beneficial use to society—transportation of oil needed for daily living.

Strict liability also attaches to the keeper of an animal that is by nature dangerous, or that is known or should be known to have dangerous propensities. Liability arises not from how the animal is kept, but rather simply from the fact the dangerous animal is in a person’s possession and control. Again, no negligence or fault need be established for liability to be placed on the owner of the animal. With regard to dog bites, Civil Code Sec. 3342 has done away with the requirement that dangerous propensity be shown. Under Sec. 3342, the owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.

Although strict liability alleviates a person harmed of the burden of showing negligence or fault, it is important to note that liability is not without exception or qualification. Certain conduct on the part of the person harmed may serve as a defense to the imposition of strict liability. As such, if you have been harmed as a result of any of the above activities, it is advised that you consult with an experienced attorney to determine whether strict liability applies in your case.

Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. This article is not a solicitation.

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes was President of the Philippine American Bar Association for 2005. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive former CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail; visit at

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