Strict Liability

Most personal injury claims are based in part upon the defendant’s mental state. Normally, to bear liability, the defendant must have acted with a culpable mental state, such as negligence, gross negligence, or intentional misconduct Strict liability is unique because it imposes liability on faultless defendants.

Liability and the Defendant’s Mental State

Before delving into strict liability, it can be helpful to understand the other types of legal theories that attach to personal injury cases. These include:


Negligence is carelessness. The defendant was negligent if:

  • They owed you a duty of care; 
  • They breached that duty of care;
  • They caused the accident in question; and
  • You sustained damages as a result of their breach of duty.

These elements must be supported on a “by a preponderance of the evidence” basis.

Gross Negligence 

Gross negligence requires a conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others. It means something like “extreme negligence.” Diving while intoxicated and causing a car accident is a possible example of gross negligence. 

Intentional Torts

To bear liability for an intentional tort, the defendant must have specifically intended the act that harmed you. They need not have specifically intended the harm that befell you, however. Assault would fall under the category of intentional torts.

Strict Liability Claims

Under Texas personal injury law, strict liability applies to product liability, abnormally dangerous activities, and injuries caused by wild animals.

Strict Product Liability

Product liability arises when you suffer an injury caused by a defective product. That might mean, for example, a prescription medication or defective brake drums. Product liability even covers food poisoning. To win a product liability claim, you must prove that:

  • The product was defective. The defect must have been a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or inadequate product warnings. 
  • You must have been using the product as intended.
  • You must have suffered an injury.
  • The product defect must have actually caused the injury that you suffered.

You must prove all of these elements to win. Note that “intent” is not an element of a strict product liability claim. In addition, sometimes you can also file a product liability claim based on negligence.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

Some activities are so inherently dangerous that Texas requires those who engage in them to act as the insurers of any harm that they cause. An “abnormally dangerous activity” is uncommon, and it generates a substantial foreseeable risk of harm no matter how much care you exercise. Possible examples include:

  • Storing explosives, 
  • Conducting demolition activities, 
  • Disposing of hazardous chemical waste, 
  • Producing radioactive emissions, 
  • Operating heavy machinery, or 
  • Working with high-voltage electricity.

This is just a sample of the various activities that Texas might classify as “abnormally dangerous.”

Injuries Caused by Wild Animals

In Texas, a defendant can bear liability for keeping exotic or wild animals that are known to be dangerous. If a pet chimpanzee escapes its enclosure, for example, and hurts someone, the owner can bear liability. 

In many cases, keeping a wild animal will violate local law anyway. If it does, you can use the principle of negligence per se to help prove they were negligent. If it works, you won’t need to win a strict liability claim-–you can assert your negligence claim. However, strict liability is still useful, because Texas laws on keeping wild animals are inconsistent from place to place.

Similar Concept: Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability arises when the law holds one party responsible for the misconduct of another. Strictly speaking, it does not constitute strict liability. There is fault involved; it’s just someone else’s fault, that’s all. 

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, for example, an employer bears liability for the misconduct of their employee who was acting within the scope of their employment duties. Liability arises against the employer even if the employer was faultless.

Legally, things can get tricky under certain circumstances, such as when the employee commits intentional misconduct or when the victim seeks punitive damages from the employer.  

Special Case: Dog Bite Claims

Unlike some states, in Texas, a dog owner is not always strictly liable for dog bites. For strict liability to attach, the dog owner must have been on notice that the dog was sometimes prone to act aggressively. However, a negligence claim might still be an option if the dog had never bitten previously. 

A Strict Liability Claim Usually Requires the Assistance of a Skilled Dallas Personal Injury Lawyer

It’s not all that easy to prove a personal injury claim that allows liability, even for a faultless defendant. If you believe you may have a case, it’s likely in your best interest to set up a free consultation with an experienced Dallas personal injury attorney from Jay Murray Personal Injury Lawyers at (214) 855-1420 and learn about your legal options.