What is “strict liability” in a case of product liability?

If you have been following the news lately, or have perused our blog in the past, you are probably aware of the large-scale vehicle recalls that General Motors has undertaken in connection with allegedly defective ignitions. These recalls can lead to two questions regarding the legal theory of product liability:

  1. What is “product liability,” and
  2. What is “strict liability” in connection to product liability?

Generally speaking, the concept behind product liability is that sometimes a company may make something that, when it is designed, or built, is inherently unsafe to its intended customers. 

Anyone in Dallas, or around the country, who suffers an injury or loss from using such a product, or surviving family members of someone who dies as a result of using an inherently unsafe product, may be able to seek redress against the manufacturer or seller.

A characteristic of product liability claims is that in some instances, the plaintiff’s ordinary responsibility to prove negligence on the part of the defendant can be lessened. This can make it easier for the plaintiff to establish a basis to hold the defendant liable. The term for such a lower standard of defendant culpability is, “strict liability.”

The reason for strict liability in product liability cases, is, often someone who is injured by an allegedly defective product may find it difficult and expensive to prove negligence on the part of the manufacturer. The time and money that might be required to go through legal discovery could be so significant that many plaintiffs might be unable to afford to press a claim.

Especially where allegedly defective products intended for mass consumption are concerned, the result could be that the manufacturer could go on making and marketing something that is dangerous to the public.

Therefore, strict liability allows a plaintiff in some cases to avoid the necessity of proving negligence on the manufacturer’s part, as long as he or she can show that the product was unreasonably dangerous as it was designed or built, and that plaintiff was injured using the unsafe design or build feature in the way it was meant to be used.

Strict liability is not a “magic bullet” for establishing a product manufacturer or seller’s liability, and there are some defenses against it. But it can make the difference between being able to recover for such an injury and not being able to afford to try.