Category: Torts

What is strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity?

The general rule in the United States is that a defendant is liable for carelessly causing harm to foreseeable plaintiffs.  The negligence standard tells us that if the defendant acted carefully enough, he should not be held liable. Defendants who engage in abnormally dangerous activity are held strictly liable.  They are liable no matter how cautiously they acted.  The idea behind strict liability is to encourage people to not engage in an activity that is very dangerous, or to engage in the activity somewhere else so no one gets hurt.  Strict liability should encourage people to find alternative, safer ways to do things.   Traditionally, U.S. courts apply multiple factors to determine whether an activity is abnormally dangerous and subject to the strict liability standard.  These factors are: (a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm; (b) likelihood that the harm that results from the activity will be great; (c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care; (d) extent to which the activity is uncommon; (e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it takes place; and (f) the extent to which the value of the activity to the community is outweighed by its danger.   The most important modern case on this issue is Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., 916 F.2d 1174 (7th Cir. 1990).  In that case...

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What is respondeat superior?

Respondeat superior means that an employer can be held liable for a tortious act of his employee if the employee commits the tort while performing his duties as an employee.  The employer will not be liable if the employee commits the tort for his own interests and where his actions are not within the scope of his employment. For example, let’s say David delivers pizza for Ricky’s pizza shop.  While delivering a pizza David drives carelessly and slams his car into Patty’s car.  Patty should be able to sue David for negligence and also sue Ricky’s pizza shop pursuant to a theory of respondeat superior.   But let’s say David decides to play a joke on Patty by jumping in front of her and screaming while she is walking down the street.  Patty is terrified and sues for David for assault.  Jumping in front of Patty and screaming has no connection to David’s job and the prank was committed to further his own interests.  Ricky’s pizza shop is probably not liable for David’s actions....

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