“Strict Liability” for Product Defects
What is Strict Liability?
“Strict liability” is a legal theory which holds defendants liable for injuries and damage caused by defective products.
The term “strict liability” relates to the fact that liability attaches based on proof that the product: (a) was defective and (b) caused the damage or injury. Unlike some legal theories, such as negligence, which often require that a hazard be unreasonably dangerous before a defendant can be held legally liable, strict liability requires only proof of the defect (plus causation).
How Does Negligence Relate to Strict Liability?
In many cases, plaintiffs’ lawyers plead negligence as an alternative theory–a second possible source of recovery–but the elements of negligence are different from those for strict liability. In some cases, companies which manufacture defective products also breach a duty, and the product defect results from this negligent action, but not all defective product-related injuries require negligence on the part of the manufacturer in order to result in a recovery for the plaintiff.
Why are the rules for defective products different from negligence rules?
Strict liability arises from a legal theory which says that people who benefit from defective products should also be the ones to bear the costs of injuries those products cause. As between an “innocent” consumer, who purchases a product assuming the product is safe to use as the manufacturer intends (or in accordance with its directions or customary use), and the manufacturer who produced it, the manufacturer has a better opportunity to prevent a dangerous product from coming to market.
In simpler terms: the manufacturer has control over the manufacturing process; the consumer does not. If someone has to bear the cost of injuries caused by a defective product, it should be the person who has the best ability to avoid the damage–by not producing defective products in the first place.
Is it fair to hold manufacturers responsible without proof of negligence?
The law says yes. Here are a few reasons why:
- Manufacturers control the production process; consumers do not. In some cases, defects happen despite a manufacturer’s best efforts, but the manufacturer is still in the best position to avoid producing and selling defective products.
- Strict liability increases the costs of production for manufacturers who produce dangerous or defective goods. In addition to the costs of litigation, their insurance costs will also rise (either due to payment of claims or due to litigation). This, in turn, puts economic pressure on the manufacturer to make goods safer, because safer goods will lower those costs.
- Purchasers should be able to rely on the products they purchase being reasonably safe to use (at least when used as intended and in accordance with instructions). When manufacturers are liable for defective products–even when those defects are accidental–the manufacturer also has an incentive to ensure that consumers receive goods that are reasonably safe.
Products liability is a complex field of law, with rules that may be difficult to understand. If you have been injured due to a defective product, seek legal representation immediately. Delay could compromise your legal rights and your ability to recover damages to compensate you for your injury.