Usually, liability in law arises where someone negligently or intentionally causes a wrongdoing to another.
There is a "mental element" or subjective intention which is required to be satisfied.
That's not the case when strict liability applies.
What is Strict Liability?
There are however instances where intention, negligence or recklessness do not form part of the requirements to constitute a cause of action in law.
These are torts of "strict liability".
In strict liability torts, it's immaterial that the defendant:
- did not intend or mean their actions to be unlawful
- exercised all reasonable care (or extreme care)
- acted in good faith
- acted honestly, or
- intended any particular result.
There is no requirement to make out a mental element to be successful to establish the liability of the defendant.
This means that "innocence" is no defence to a claim which attracts strict liability.
What are the Defences to Strict Liability?
Primarily, the defences to strict liability will be to focus on proving that one or more of the elements of the tort itself are not satisfied, so that the basic tort is not proved. That requires an analysis of each of the elements of the tort alleged.
Another way is to show that the damage suffered by the claimant was not caused by the acts of the defendant in question. That deprives the claimant of an award in damages, or minimises it.
When that loss can't be shown on the evidence, the claimant is left to recover nominal damages.
Examples of Strict Liability
The causes of action which attract strict liability include:
- breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018, and its predecessor, the Data Protection Act 1998
- infringement of intellectual property rights, including
- vicarious liability which applies in for example employment relationships.
An employer is strictly liable for the acts and omissions of an employee where the employee acts (or fails to act) in the course of their employment
- product liability
- procuring a breach of contract
- the tort of conversion, and
- the law of bailment.
Strict liability also applies in torts where a "common design" exists between the defendants. A common design is similar to what would be a (non-criminal) conspiracy.
Contracts and Strict Liability
Breach of contract also attracts strict liability. However, it's not a tort.
Damages for breach of contract are awards for the breach of contract, regardless of fault on the part of the offending party.
Again subject to any defences which may be available whether under the terms of the contract itself, the conduct of the parties, or both. Accordingly, a party in breach of contract is strictly liable for breach.