Strict Liability

Most personal injury claims are based on negligence (carelessness). Strict liability, by contrast, means liability without fault. Pennsylvania applies strict liability to three types of claims: product liability, dog bites, and abnormally dangerous activities.

Product Liability

Under strict product liability, you can claim against a designer, manufacturer, distributor, or seller of a product that injures someone, and you don’t even have to prove fault. In effect, the law demands that designers, manufacturers, and sellers of a product insure the product against any injuries it might cause.

To win a strict product liability lawsuit, you must prove:

  • The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed, or sold the product;
  • The product incorporated a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or a “warning defect” (inadequate product warnings) before it left the defendant’s possession;
  • The plaintiff did not misuse the product, or they used it in a reasonably foreseeable way;
  • The plaintiff suffered an injury; and
  • The product defect was a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

It is also possible to sue a product manufacturer for negligence, but negligence is based on a different legal theory.

Dog Bites

Some states apply a “one bite rule” to dog bites-–the owner is not liable for injuries inflicted by a dog that had never before exhibited aggressive tendencies. In most cases, however, Pennsylvania does not apply the one bite rule. Instead, the general rule is that a dog owner is strictly liable for injuries inflicted by their dog, no matter how gently the dog has behaved in the past. 

Special Cases

Following is a list that shows how Pennsylvania’s strict liability dog bite law applies under particular circumstances.


Dog owners are not liable for injuries their dog inflicts on trespassers. A burglar, for example, cannot sue a homeowner for injuries they sustain in a burglary. 

Mail Carriers and Other Government Employees

On-duty mail carriers and government employees (police officers, for example) are not trespassers, even if the dog owner never specifically invited them onto their property. A dog owner bears liability if their dog attacks these people.

On-Duty Police and Military Dogs

The government and its agents are generally not liable for bites inflicted by on-duty police and military dogs. 

Kennel Workers, Veterinarians, and Other Professional Dog Handlers 

Dog owners are not liable for dog bites that professional dog handlers sustain while working with the dog. This immunity from liability applies regardless of the dog’s known aggressive tendencies.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

Pennsylvania law imposes strict liability upon parties that engage in abnormally dangerous activities, such as using explosives to blast a tunnel into a mountain. This liability applies to both personal injury and property damage. It qualifies as “strict” because it applies no matter how carefully the defendant carried out the activity. Nevertheless, only foreseeable harm justifies a strict liability claim–“freak accidents” do not.

Courts consider the following factors to determine whether an activity is abnormally dangerous:

  • A high degree of risk to person or property;
  • A high likelihood of great harm;
  • The impossibility of eliminating the danger through the exercise of reasonable care;
  • How common the activity is;
  • How appropriate the activity was for its location;
  • The extent to which the danger of the activity exceeds its value to the community. 

No single factor is necessarily predominant–courts will base their decision on the “totality of the circumstances.”

Defenses Against Strict Liability

Pennsylvania law has carved out a number of defenses to strict liability. Some of these defenses apply to all strict liability claims, while others apply only to certain types of claims. Below are some examples.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence applies if the victim was partly to blame for the accident. Pennsylvania resolves this situation by deducting an amount from the defendant’s damages that is exactly proportionate to their degree of fault. And if the victim is assigned 51% or more of the blame, they cannot recover damages.

Assumption of the Risk

Under the assumption of the risk defense, the victim cannot recover damages for their injuries if they knew and understood the risk of a particular activity or condition and voluntarily assumed it. Examples include everything from skydiving to playing rough with your neighbor’s dog.

Statute of Limitations

Generally, you cannot file a lawsuit over personal injury once two years have elapsed since the injury occurred. Limited exceptions apply under certain circumstances.

Statute of Repose

You cannot file a product liability lawsuit if at least 12 years have elapsed since you purchased or installed improvements to real estate. There is no statute of repose for other kinds of products.

Claim-Specific Defenses

Some defenses apply only to certain kinds of claims. Provocation, for example, applies only to dog bite cases (you cannot recover for a dog bite if you provoked the dog).

Schedule a Free Consultation With a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer

Strict liability claims, particularly product liability claims, can be difficult to win. Schedule a free consultation with a Harrisburg personal injury lawyer to find out whether your claim is viable. Most personal injury lawyers at Marzzacco Niven & Associates will not charge you any legal fees unless they win your case. Call us at (717) 231-1640.