Strict Liability in Criminal and Tort Law

Strict Liability Cases in tort and criminal law


Strict liability or liability without fault does not require someone to prove that there was an intent behind the act. It can be proved only by showing that the act has been committed and there is no need to prove mens rea or intent. As per the doctrine of strict liability, the defendant can be held liable even if he was unaware of the results his act could have or that he was doing something wrong.

He can be held liable even if he did not intend to cause any harm. The strict liability cases are mostly not so serious offenses. They are minor violations that can be punished by fines and there is no need for incarceration. Some of the examples are parking offenses, overspeed driving and selling tobacco or liquor to the minors.

Strict liability exists in both tort and criminal law. In criminal law it is applicable in statutory rape and possession crimes. These crimes can be punished with incarceration. In tort, the possession of certain animals or abnormally dangerous activities are treated as strict liability cases. Generally, the strict liability cases carry light punishment but there are some felonies that are also included under this category.


Moreover, there is a strict products liability category which applies in case of defective products when a plaintiff has been injured and a defendant holds responsibility of having made the defective product.  Statutory rape cases are treated by most states as strict liability cases. An adult accused cannot claim he was unaware of the victim’s age at the time he committed the crime. Statutory rape is therefore treated as strict liability so that criminals do not use it to escape liability. The states also treat statutory rape as a strict liability for the protection of the underage females.

The case of Lawrence Taylor is an example of strict liability. Lawrence was a famous football player. He was accused of having raped a girl, sixteen years old. In general criminal cases, the prosecutor would have to prove the intention behind the crime. This is not the case with the strict liability offenses.

All that the prosecutor needs to prove is that there has been committed a crime, whether committed knowingly or unknowingly. When Taylor was charged with statutory rape, it was not required to prove that he knew the age of the victim. The things that were to be proved were as follows:


  1. Taylor’s age was more than 21.
  2. The girl was younger than seventeen in age. (Age of consent in NewYork).
  3. The two had a sexual intercourse.

In strict liability cases there is no need to show culpable mental state. The only important thing to be proved is that a crime has been committed. Causing pollution, mislabeling drugs as well as concealing weapons while inside an aircraft is also considered strict liability. These offenses are of major importance in criminal law.

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