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Understanding Strict Liability in Connecticut

Feb 23, 2023

When we are talking about activities for which we could be found liable in law, there is a physical act — the “actus reus” — and a mental component. There are instances, however, when someone’s intent or awareness is largely irrelevant to the issue of guilt. This is called strict liability.

What Is Strict Liability in Connecticut Law?

It’s been said that “Connecticut is a strict liability state.” This is because there are a number of activities or offenses Connecticut has specifically legislated to be strict liability. This means that someone can be legally liable for something regardless of “fault”, even if they were trying to be careful.

In civil tort law, a plaintiff bringing an action for negligence must prove that the act (or omission) occurred, and that it was a marked departure from what a reasonably prudent person in the defendant’s person would have done in similar circumstances. When a particular type of wrongdoing is strict liability, it means that the plaintiff only needs to establish that the negligent act or omission took place.

Note that a court can still consider whether the plaintiff profited from the activity or somehow contributed to it — which could affect whether the plaintiff would be entitled to the full award of damages.

Why Are There Strict Liability Provisions?

Strict liability can significantly lessen the burden of proof of the prosecutor for criminal offenses and the plaintiff in civil matters. Why would we want something like this in our legal system? Legal scholars have suggested that the policy underlying strict liability is the desire to deter activity or behavior our society deems is undesirable. The activity could be inherently dangerous. The harm could be foreseeable. The risk it poses could be unreasonable.

What Are Some Examples of Strict Liability in Personal Injury Cases?

In strict liability cases, the plaintiff doesn’t need to prove that the defendant was reckless or did not use due care. — only that they were injured by the act or omission and that they suffered loss as a result.

Products Liability

In many states, manufacturing a defective product falls under strict liability. If a plaintiff suffers a personal injury because a product was defective, they are entitled to damages even if the manufacturer was careful and followed industry norms. The plaintiff must still prove that there was a defect that made the product unreasonably dangerous even with proper use and that it caused the injury. Under Connecticut’s Product Liability Act, there are both negligence and strict liability claims.

Ultrahazardous Activity

An ultrahazardous activity — sometimes also called “abnormally dangerous activity” or “extrahazardous activity” — is one with an inherently high level of danger. Under common law, it’s something that by its own nature is likely to cause damage to property or people. For example, blasting rocks is expected to cause damage to areas if the defendant does not have complete control. Under the doctrine of strict liability, a plaintiff suing someone for injury resulting from rock blasting would not have to prove that the defendant was negligent in any way.

Not all activities that have an element of inherent danger will be considered “ultrahazardous.” Driving a vehicle, although it can be dangerous, is a common activity undertaken by average, everyday people. Transporting gas or other hazardous materials is necessary to commerce and our way of life.

Premises Liability

Property owners are legally responsible for ensuring that their property is safe and secure for visitors. The most commonly cited example is the “slip and fall” accident due to the failure to shovel snow/ice off the road, but other dangers include faulty equipment, falling hazards, and attacks due to inadequate security. Premises liability as an area of law is not strict liability, but instances that give rise to legal action might be. For example, faulty equipment could actually fall under product liability, or a pet could bite or attack someone on site.

Animal Attacks/Bites

Many jurisdictions maintain strict liability for animals that can bite or attack other animals or people. The policy reason is that unlike humans, animals don’t have a “conscience” or the same kind of cognition. It is therefore up to the people who choose to keep potentially dangerous animals as pets to make sure they are adequately restrained and unable to cause harm.

Depending on the state, someone with a regular domesticated animal may be strictly liable if they actually knew that there was a potential danger with this particular animal. In other jurisdictions, dog owners may be liable for property damage if their animal trespasses onto another party’s property. There are usually recognized differences between wild animals and domesticated animals, though, such that someone who keeps a wild animal would usually be liable even if it wasn’t known to be dangerous.

“One Bite” Rule vs Strict Liability in Dog Bite Cases

Before the 20th century, dog owners were liable for dog bite injuries if they had a reason to think that the dog might bite someone. In essence, the dog had “one free bite,” which would be notice to its owner that it could potentially bite. After that, the owner would be liable if the dog bit again. This has been called the “One Bite” Rule.

In Connecticut, dog bites/attacks are strict liability pursuant to Conn.Gen.Stat. § 22-357, which holds that a dog owner (or their parent/guardian if they are a minor) is liable for damage or personal injury inflicted by their dog unless the victim at the time was trespassing or committing another unlawful act — or provoking the dog. It doesn’t matter if the owner thought the dog would or would not bite.

Connecticut Personal Injury Attorneys

At Hassett & George, P.C., we handle all sorts of personal injury cases, including strict liability cases (or cases involving strict liability matters) such as dog bitesproduct liability, and premises liability. Contact us today if you have been injured.