Blog Series, Part 3: What is a Tort?
As we have seen, torts are meant as a legal remedy for private wrongs. Negligence is the tort we encounter most often in our daily lives. We also took a look at product liability, premises liability, and intentional torts.
This week we take a look at strict liability. Typically, tort law won’t provide a remedy unless the wrongdoer has breached a duty of reasonable care. But there are situations where the law does not require a showing of negligence or any other breach. Where the conduct is considered to be abnormally dangerous, someone may recover simply by showing that the conduct was, in fact, the cause of their injuries. Justice Neeley famously explained the policy behind the strict liability rule:
“Where, for example, the defendant has elephants parachuting onto his farmland to entertain his family, he is acting for his own purposes, and is seeking a profit or benefit while creating an abnormal risk. Should the elephant's landing not be on target but rather on my roof, then I would be confounded if it were required that I prove either a negligent pilot or a defective parachute. That would be tantamount to asking about the negligence of the elephant. [The rule of strict liability] controls and clearly tells us where the liability lies.” Peneschi v. National Steel Corp., 170 W.Va. 511, 515, 295 S.E.2d 1 (1982)
There are many real-life applications of the strict liability rule. The earliest cases applied strict liability to the above ground storage of water or anything else that was “likely to do mischief it escapes.” Through the years, the rule has been applied to many other situations that are inherently dangerous including blasting operations, keeping wild animals, storing explosives or flammable liquids, crop dusting, transporting acids or other corrosives, and disposing of certain kinds of chemical waste. As new technologies are developed, the scope of strict liability will most certainly continue to expand—providing relief whenever the benefits of the activity are greatly outweighed by the potential for injury or death.
In the next installment, we’ll turn our focus to medical malpractice.
Today's blog: In part three of his blog series on torts, Jay Stoneking educates us today on strict liability and where it comes into play in tort law.