Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Strict Liability Definition:

Tort liability which is set upon the defendant without need to prove intent, negligence or fault; as long as you can prove that it was the defendant's object that caused the damage.

Related Terms: Absolute Liability, Liability, Nuisance, Mens Rea, Ultrahazardous Activity, Rylands v. Fletcher, the Rule in

Tort liability is usually founded on intended harm (intentional torts such as assault) or where harm occurs as a result of negligence.

In strict liability, neither of those are required.

Liability attaches even where the defendant has acted completely reasonably.

In his 6th edition of Canadian Tort Law, Linden wrote of strict liability:

"One person may be required to compensate another for injury or damages even though the loss was neither intentionally nor negligently inflicted."

In John Campbell Law Corp., Justice Melnick wrote:

"In the case of Rylands v. Fletcher the defendant's underground water reservoir caused an old mine shaft owned by the plaintiff to collapse. Although the court found that Mr. Rylands and Mr. Horrocks (the defendants) were not negligent, they were still strictly liable for damages. Mr. Justice Blackburn stated:

'We think that the true rule of law is, that the person 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 do so, he is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of his escape. He can excuse himself by showing that the escape was owing to the plaintiff's default; or perhaps that the escape was the consequence of vis major, or the act of God; but as nothing of this sort exists here, it is unnecessary to inquire what excuse would be sufficient.'

"This case established strict liability only in the limited circumstances stated above. It has been followed in Canada, and the test that Canadian courts use to establish strict liability in these situations is as follows:

"The plaintiff must prove that:

  • The defendant made a non-natural use of his land;
  • The defendant brought onto his land something which was likely to do mischief if it escaped;
  • The substance in question escaped; and
  • Damage was caused to the plaintiff's property (or person) as a result of the escape."

Some legal historians opine that strict liability "was the prevailing rule of the early common law."1

French: responsabilité stricte.

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