Most personal injury claims are founded on the basis of negligence, which means the tortfeasor breached a duty of care owed to the claimant, resulting in his or her injury or loss. But when strict liability applies, proving the defendant was negligent is not a prerequisite to recovering damages. In the state of California, strict liability applies to certain product liability and dog bite cases.
Strict Liability in Product Liability Cases
A product defect can arise at any stage of the design, manufacturing, or distribution process. Although you may not have to prove negligence to prevail in a product liability claim, you still have to prove how the defect occurred in order to identify the liable parties. You must also demonstrate that you used the product as it was intended to be used or in such a way that was reasonably foreseeable to the manufacturer.
What Are Manufacturing Defects?
Manufacturing defects occur during construction of the product, meaning that only a few items in the product line contain the defect. The following elements must be proven to win a product liability claim involving a manufacturing defect:
- The product was manufactured by the defendant;
- The defect existed when it left the defendant’s possession;
- The defect created an additional injury risk;
- You were injured; and
- The defect substantially caused your harm.
What Are Design Defects?
In a design defect case, all items in the product line are defective. There are two widely accepted tests to prove that a design defect existed: the consumer expectations test and the risk-benefit test.
A product fails the consumer expectations test if it cannot meet an ordinary consumer’s safety expectations. A product fails the risk-benefit test if the benefits of its design are outweighed by the risks posed by its design. The following factors are considered when performing the risk-benefit test:
- Whether the design is likely to cause injury;
- The severity of the injuries likely to occur due to the design; and
- Whether a safer alternative design would have offered the same benefit without significant disadvantages.
What Constitutes Inadequate or Defective Labeling?
It’s not uncommon for consumers to use goods in ways that aren’t intended by the product designer or manufacturer. For example, people might machine-dry clothes with tags that specifically instruct against putting them into a dryer, or use a screwdriver or other household tool for opening cans of paint. When designing and manufacturing a product, companies must consider the unintended ways an ordinary consumer might use the product and take reasonable measures to prevent injury under those circumstances.
One such measure is placing warning labels on products that clearly indicate the risks posed by using the product in unintended ways. It’s important to note, however, that companies are not required to warn consumers about risks that a person of ordinary prudence would have already known about. For instance, if you place wet clothes on a gas heater to dry them and this leads to a fire, you wouldn’t necessarily have grounds for a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
Strict Liability in Dog Bite Cases
Under California law, dog owners are strictly liable for any injuries their dogs cause in an attack, with a few exceptions. That means if you or your child was bitten by a dog, you may not have to prove the dog owner was negligent to recover compensation for the resulting damages.
Knowledge of the dog’s viciousness is not required for strict liability to apply, and the lack of any prior attacks does not prevent the owner from being held responsible. This eliminates the “one-bite rule” that applies in other states.
To prevail in a dog bite case, the claimant must prove the following:
- The defendant was the owner of the dog;
- The attack happened while the victim was lawfully on private property or on public property;
- The victim sustained an injury during the attack; and
- The dog caused the injury.
There are, however, certain situations when dog owners are not held liable for such an attack. This might be the case if:
- The dog was involved in police or military work and either defending itself or aiding an agency employee in executing a warrant, investigating a crime, defending a peace officer or another person, or apprehending/holding a suspect when the agency employee reasonably suspects their involvement in criminal activity;
- You were trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the incident;
- You provoked the incident; or
- You assumed the risk of a dog attack and thereby the injuries.
Though this may seem straightforward, there are exceptions to the exceptions. For example, in the case of a police or military dog, strict liability may still apply if the victim was not an actual or suspected party to or participant in the acts prompting the decision to use the dog in their official working capacity. The complexity of these laws and their exceptions are best navigated with the aid of a well-credentialed personal injury attorney.
It’s important to note that the dog owner isn’t the only party who may be liable for a dog bite. Depending on the circumstances of the attack, the following parties might be liable:
- A Landlord: If a landlord had the right to remove the dog from the premises and knew about the dog’s vicious propensities, the landlord may be held liable for the attack.
- A Commercial Property Owner: If the attack occurred on a commercial property, the owner may be held liable since he or she would have had a duty to inspect the premises to identify dangerous conditions such as a vicious dog.
- A Residential Property Owner: If the attack occurred on a residential property, the landlord may be held liable if he or she had actual knowledge that a vicious dog was on the premises. The landlord may also be liable if the dog escaped from the property due to broken fencing, a hole, or another defect.
- The Dog’s Caretaker: If a person other than the owner was in control of the dog at the time of the attack, that individual may be held liable for the resulting damages. Strict liability, however, would not apply in this scenario. To be held liable, the caretaker must have had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities.
Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Personal Injury Lawyer
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
Even if strict liability applies to your case, complications can still arise that may lead to a dispute or delay the proceedings. Attorney Michael Waks can help you navigate the claims process, make sure you are treated fairly by the insurance company, and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Michael Waks is a top-rated trial lawyer who has won numerous six- and seven-figure verdicts in personal injury cases for clients all over southern California. He has more than 30 years of experience providing highly skilled, personalized representation to injury victims and their families. You will have a direct line of contact with him throughout the proceedings.
Call us today at (562) 206-2939 or send us an online message via our Contact Page to set up a no-obligation consultation. The initial consultation is free, and we don’t charge any attorney’s fees unless we win. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we can come to you if you are unable to come to us.
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