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What is "strict liability" in defective product cases?

Some of our Naperville readers may have heard the phrase "strict liability" in the context of court cases involving allegedly dangerous products. Particularly for someone who has been injured by a dangerous or defective product, it is important to understand exactly what "strict liability" does and does not entail.

As nice as it would be, "strict liability" does not mean that a manufacturer or seller of a product has to pay compensation whenever someone gets hurt while using their product. There are some cases in which someone gets hurt, but no one can say the product involved was unsafe. Moreover, just about anything that is bought and sold has some potential to be dangerous.

What strict liability does mean is that the law will make it easier on people who have been injured by defective products by allowing a "bypass" around several traditional legal doctrines which, in other types of cases, could well be a bar to an injured person's getting a financial recovery. The most important of these "bypasses" is that an injured person need not prove a manufacturer or seller was negligent with respect to a dangerous product.

In other words, the key question is whether the product a company made or sold is defective and unreasonably dangerous. A product can be unreasonably dangerous due to a bad design; because the manufacturing process failed in a specific instance; or because the product was not accompanied by adequate safety warnings. In any event, even if a company took all reasonable precautions, it can be held accountable if it is found to have placed an unreasonably dangerous product on the market.

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