I have three questions about strict liability, if you can give me some brief and plain explanations.

  1. What is the difference between strict liability and negligent liability? i.e. strict liability basis vs. negligence basis.

  2. What is the difference in burden of proof between the two bases? I am wondering whether the rule of res ipsa loquitur is only applicable to strict liability cases.

  3. What is the difference between the final compensation based on the two bases? For example, a claimant under strict liability will pay the full amount of damages rather than have the right to limit his liability and therefor pay less?

I am not a legal student. My textbook mentions the burden of proof and compensation based on the two bases, but it doesn’t interpret them clearly. I am confused why the two bases are different, and what impact they give to us in today's claim handling.

Thank you. Any help is welcome.

1 Answer 1


Strict Liability

This means that a defendant is liable for committing the action and it does not matter what his mental state was nor what he intended to do when he committed the action. Easy examples are possession of narcotics (you have them, it doesn't matter what you were going to do with them, you're liable) or statutory rape (it doesn't matter if she said she was 18, if she showed a (fake) ID, etc., if you sleep with someone underage, you're liable).


This is failing to behave with a level of care that a reasonable person would have behaved with under the same conditions. In order to prevail on negligence claim, one must establish four elements:

  1. the existence of a legal duty from the other person to you
  2. the other person's breach of that duty
  3. you having suffered an injury
  4. proof that the breach of that legal duty was the cause of that injury

While usually this has to do with actions taken (e.g., you negligently sped your car out of a parking lot...) in situations where there is a duty to act, even an omission can suffice.

The Difference?

Strict Liability and Negligence are both standards are liability. Put simply, negligence law requires a defendant to pay for the harms done by their unreasonable activity; strict liability requires a defendant to pay for all harms caused by their activity, regardless of whether the activity was reasonable or unreasonable.

Res Ipsa

Res Ipsa Loquitur doesn't apply to strict liability. Strict liability is strictly the simple formulation described above: you did it, it's on you. None of your "But-buts..." or proclamations of "I was misled!" are going to get you off the hook.

Res Ipsa Loquitur is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." Basically, it allows a Plaintiff to create a rebuttable presumption of negligence by the defendant by proving three things:

  1. The thing that happened was the type of thing that generally doesn't happen without negligence.
  2. It was caused by something solely under control of the defendant.
  3. The plaintiff did not contribute to causing that thing that happened.

Difference in Final Compensation

This is hard to answer because of the types of cases usually found applying each. Strict liability is usually seen in criminal law in the ways described above and in tort law in specific circumstances... One is owning an abnormally dangerous animal and another is conducting abnormally dangerous activities. The dangerous animal concept is why pitbill owners don't want the breed classified as a "dangerous breed."

Nonetheless, though, here's a Harvard article actually comparing compensation in strict liability vs. negligence lawsuits!

I hope this helps.

  • Thank you A.fm. Your explanation is very helpful. I'd like to confirm with you about 2 points: (1) Strict liability doesn't concern whether the defendant's behavior is negligent or not. (2) Res ipsa loqiutur is only applicable to negligent and contractual cases (who have exclusive control over the things) rather than strict liability cases. My understanding is correct?
    – edgar
    Jun 28, 2020 at 19:20
  • No prob, @edgar. 1) Correct. Unpleasant as the thought may be, the easiest way to remember strict liability is to think of statutory rape. When an adult sleeps w/a minor, that minor may have insisted he or she was above the age of consent, may have provided a fake ID to "prove" it, and/or any other deceitful act, and it won't matter. It happened, therefore adult is committed the crime. 2) I think correct. I'm not sure about contractual cases, but it's a common law torts concept. Classic example: You go in for routine surgery; after being discharged from hospital, you return days later with...
    – A.fm.
    Jun 28, 2020 at 20:53
  • ...abdominal pain. X-ray indicates there's a metal object shaped like a scalpel inside you. Under Res Ipsa Loquitur, you'd have no further need to prove anything about duty, breach, causation (the negligence elements) because there is no reason to leave a scalpel behind. Thus, 1) the thing happened doesn't happen without negligent; 2) it was caused by something solely under control of the defendant (the doctor performing surgery); and 3) the plaintiff did not contribute to causing it.
    – A.fm.
    Jun 28, 2020 at 20:58

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