Strict Liability

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Strict Liability

Quick Summary of Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that makes a person responsible for the damage and loss caused by his/her acts and omissions regardless of culpability (or fault in criminal law terms, which would normally be expressed through a mens rea requirement; see Strict liability (criminal). Strict liability is important in torts (especially product liability), corporations law, and criminal law. For analysis of the pros and cons of strict liability as applied to product liability, the most important strict liability regime, see product liability.

What is the dictionary definition of Strict Liability?

Dictionary Definition

Strict liability is the legal doctrine which allows for a wrongdoer to be held legally liable for an injury even if they were not found to be negligent or careless. More specifically, this premise allows you to be found responsible for another person’s injuries even if you did not do anything wrong. Under strict liability law, there are no defences.

The most common type of strict liability cases is for product liability lawsuits and dog bite cases. Under strict product liability law, the manufacturer, business or seller of a product can be held liable for harm and loss caused by a product, regardless of the seller’s intentions. Under this law, the claimant does not have to prove negligence to win compensation for their injuries. Similar arguments are made in dog bite cases where the owner may be responsible even if the dog has not previously bitten another person and the bitten person provoked the dog.

Full Definition of Strict Liability

Crimes for Which Mens Rea Need Not Be Proved

Strict liability makes a person responsible for the loss or damage caused by their acts or omissions regardless of culpability.

The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in terms of Edward Coke’s statement ‘actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ which means that ‘the act does not make a person guilty unless their mind is also guilty. There must be an actus reus accompanied by some level of mens rea to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged. However, the exceptions to this standard are strict liability crimes.

Tort law

In tort law, strict liability is the imposition of liability on a party without a finding of fault (such as negligence or tortious intent). The plaintiff needs to prove only that the tort happened and that the defendant was responsible. Strict liability is imposed for legal infractions that are malum prohibitum rather than malum in se, therefore, neither good faith nor the fact that the defendant took all possible precautions are valid defences. Strict liability often applies to those engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous ventures

Strict liability is sometimes called absolute liability to distinguish those situations where, although the plaintiff does not have to prove fault, the defendant can raise a defence of absence of fault.

A classic example of strict liability is the owner of a tiger rehabilitation centre; no matter how strong the tiger cages are, if an animal escapes and causes damage and injury, the owner is held liable. Another example is a contractor hiring a demolition subcontractor that lacks proper insurance. If the subcontractor makes a mistake, the contractor is strictly liable for any damage that occurs.

The law imputes strict liability to situations it considers to be inherently dangerous. It discourages reckless behaviour and needless loss by forcing potential defendants to take every possible precaution. It also has the effect of simplifying litigation and allowing the victim to become whole more quickly.

The doctrine’s most famous advocates were Learned Hand, Benjamin Cardozo, and Roger J. Traynor.

In English and Welsh law, where tortious liability is strict, the defendant will often only be liable for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of his or her act or omission (as in nuisance).

In the case of Gammon (Hong Kong) Ltd v AG [1985] the court outlined four guidelines for other courts to use to decide whether or not the crime in question is a strict liability crime:

The Crime Is A Regulatory Offence

This is typically a crime where no moral issue is involved and the maximum penalty is usually small. In Sweet v Parsley [1970] Lord Reid stated that a crime to which a social stigma is attached should need mens rea to be proved.

The most common types of regulatory offences are rules on hygiene and measurement in the food industry and regulations to stop industry polluting the environment.

The Statute Containing The Offence Deals With An Issue Of Social Concern

This involves issues such as public safety and is in place to force people to take extra precautions against committing the act. This covers behaviour which involves danger to the public but which would not usually carry the same kind of social stigma as a crime like murder or theft. Such offences are similar to regulatory offences but they may carry severe maximum penalties.

The Wording Of The Act

A statute may be interpreted as creating a strict liability offence. There is no definitive example of what form the words must take but certain words, such as ‘cause’ and ‘possession’, have been consistently interpreted by the courts as resulting in strict liability crimes.

Smallness Of The Penalty

Strict liability is often imposed for offences which carry a small maximum penalty. The higher the maximum penalty, the less likely it is that the courts will impose strict liability. However, penalties can sometimes be high.

Advantages Of Strict Liability

  • Promotion of care – it protects the public from dangerous practises.
  • Deterrent – offenders obey the law because they know prosecution leads to an automatic conviction.
  • Easier enforcement – court time is saved when mens rea need not be proved.
  • The difficulty of proving mens rea – mens rea can be difficult to prove so without strict liability guilty people may avoid conviction.
  • No threat to liberty – punishment is usually a fine.

Disadvantages Of Strict Liability

  • Injustice – is it really fair for a person to be blamed even if they took all reasonable steps to avoid the problem?
  • Ineffectiveness – there is no deterrent if the guilty party is not caught.
  • Little administrative advantage – not much time is saved since the court still needs to hear the whole of the case.
  • Inconsistent application – there is a lack of certainly due to the reliance on statutory interpretation.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Strict Liability. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. September 25, 2020
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Strict Liability. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: September 25, 2020).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Strict Liability. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Strict Liability are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 25th April, 2020 | 2 Views.