Strict Liability: Definition and Meaning

A legal principle known as "strict responsibility" is used in some tort and criminal proceedings (claims made to recover compensation after an injury). Defendants may be held accountable for the results of their acts under strict liability laws, regardless of whether they acted knowingly or negligently.

It's critical to comprehend what strict liability is and the situations in which it's appropriate. You can learn everything you need to know from this guide.

What is the Meaning of Strict Liability?

Strict liability is also known as absolute liability. According to a legal principle, a defendant's purpose is irrelevant when deciding whether to hold him accountable for a crime he committed or whether to require him to pay compensation to affected victims in a personal injury claim.

In instances of strict responsibility, it is also irrelevant whether the defendant acted carelessly or negligently. When stringent liability laws are in effect, even a careful person might still be held accountable for the results.

Strict liability is distinct from deliberate offenses, negligent or reckless torts, and intentional crimes. Although prosecutors or plaintiffs must still establish that defendants committed a crime or a tort, proving a strict liability claim may be simpler because there is no need to demonstrate the defendant's thoughts or how their actions relate to those of a reasonably sensible person. The act of committing the crime or tort must be proven.

Strict Liability According to Civil Law

The imposition of duty on a party without a finding of fault is known as "strict liability" in tort law (such as negligence or tortious intent). The plaintiff merely needs to demonstrate that the defendant committed the tort and that it happened. Situations that the law deems to be inherently harmful are subject to strict liability. By requiring potential defendants to take all reasonable precautions, it deters careless behavior and avoidable loss. Although the imposition of strict liability may seem unfair or harsh, as in Re Polemis, it has the advantageous effect of simplifying and speeding up court rulings in these circumstances.

Even in cases of strict tort liability, the defendant may occasionally only be held accountable for the reasonably foreseeable effects of his conduct or omission under the English law of negligence and nuisance.

In Rylands v. Fletcher, it was decided that "anyone who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes must keep it in at his peril and if he does not, is prima facie answerable for all the damage that is the natural consequence of its escape." This ruling is a classic example of strict liability. If lions and tigers are kept at a zoo, the owner is responsible if they escape and cause harm and injury to any person or anyone’s property.

Strict Liability According to Criminal Law

Outside of civil law, strict responsibility also exists. There are a few strict liability offenses where mental state is irrelevant, despite the fact that the majority of crimes require either purpose or recklessness as a component of the crime.

One instance of a strict liability crime is statutory rape. When a defendant has sex with a minor, it constitutes this offense. It is irrelevant whether the defendant was careless in identifying the victim's age or knew the victim was a minor. Under strict liability laws, the defendant may be charged with a crime if sexual activity is engaged with a person who is not of legal age to consent.

Essentials of Strict Liability

It includes −

  • Dangerous Substance: This suggests that the defendant would only be liable for damages if anything that escaped from the property was dangerous. "Dangerous" in this context refers to the possibility of some sort of misery if the object exits the defendant's region. In the aforementioned illustration, the hazardous water was that which had pooled in the Fletcher pool. In accordance with the law, items including gasoline, electricity, bombs, flagpoles, dangerous smoke, vibration, yew trees, sewage, and even rough cables might be deemed hazardous if they escape from the owner's property.

  • Escape: The concept of "escape" is another crucial aspect of strict liability, which stipulates that anything that could damage someone else should be out of reach and off the user's property. For instance, if person A has planted certain toxic plants, they could be fatal to anyone or any animal ingesting them. However, if B's sheep entered A's land and ate that plant, then A is not liable for the loss. If B's sheep ate that plant because some of them had fallen on A's land, then A is responsible for compensating B for his loss.

  • Non-Natural Use: in the case of Rylands v. Fletcher, the defendant used the land to build a reservoir to benefit its mill, which put others in danger and made him liable for the plaintiff's loss. By contrast, if a stored body of water is used for a non-natural purpose, such as domestic use, then a person can be held accountable for any harm caused by it.

Exceptions of Strict Liability

Following are the major exceptions of strict liability −

  • Act of God: An act of God is a sudden, direct, and uncontrollable act of nature for which no one can logically plan. No matter how many safeguards are taken, it might still cause damage. Examples of acts of God include tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, unusual rainfall, etc. These actions do not give rise to strict liability for any harm that results from them.

  • Wrongful Act of Third Party: Damages might result through the engagement of outside parties. For instance, renovation activity in one apartment may bother residents in another apartment. The harmed renter in this case cannot bring a lawsuit against his landlord. He is limited to suing the guy who remodelled the other apartment.

  • Plaintiff’s own Fault: In many cases, the plaintiff may be directly responsible for the harm he experiences. Regardless of how much he suffers, he cannot shift responsibility in such circumstances to someone else.

  • Consent of the Plaintiff: If the plaintiff had given their approval for a dangerous thing to accumulate on the defendant's property, the Volenti non-fit injuria defense could have been used. When the source of the hazard offers a shared benefit, this consent is assumed. If a water tank is built atop a building for communal use, any harm brought on by the water escaping or the tank collapsing is not actionable because it was built for "common benefit."

  • Statutory Authority: This one is actually rather easy. If one's conduct were mandated by a statute and there was no carelessness on the part of the actor, one simply cannot be held accountable under the principle of strict liability.

How to Support a Case for Strict Liability?

As previously indicated, it may be simpler to prove strict responsibility cases than instances involving carelessness or deliberate wrongdoing. But that does not mean that there is no evidence necessary for a defendant to be found guilty or responsible for damages just because plaintiffs or prosecutors do not have to demonstrate intentional behaviour or negligence.

Depending on the offence or injury, different types of evidence may be needed to convict a defendant of a crime or establish liability in a personal injury case. In a product liability claim, a victim would have to prove a defective product caused their injury.

The elements of a strict liability crime or tort that must be established in order for a plaintiff or prosecutor to succeed can be explained by an expert lawyer.


The current exceptions that ultimately aid the defendant in distancing themselves from the liability lead to frequent criticism of the strict liability concept in torts. However, we also need to take into account the fact that this rule is an exception in and of itself. Only when someone is at fault can they be even in the absence of blame.


Q1. What is the most common case of strict liability?

Ans. There are the most common cases of strict liability are:

  • Injuries brought on by defective or unsafe products.

  • Deadly animals.

  • Extremely risky hobbies.

Q2. What fault is Strict Liability based on?

Ans. Strict liability is based on Liability regardless of fault.

Q3. What are the two elements of strict liability?

Ans. The two key elements of strict liability are −

The action that caused the injury or damage to an individual must be considered inherently dangerous or abnormal. Which means, the activity must be one that poses a high risk of harm to others, even if all reasonable precautions are taken. Examples of activities that are considered inherently dangerous or abnormal include manufacturing and selling defective products, storing hazardous materials, and keeping wild animals.

The liability is imposed without regard to fault or negligence: This means that an individual or entity can be held liable for damages or injuries caused by their actions, regardless of whether they intended to cause harm or were negligent in their actions.

Updated on: 01-Feb-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started