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June 25, 2009 - Civil Offenses that are strict liability in Washington

Strict liability in Washington: certain civil offenses (as opposed of criminal) amount to liability even if the defendant acts as a reasonable person and she does everything on her power to avoid harm. There are two categories that give strict liability in Washington.

I. Wild animals in Spokane- a defendant (owner and possibly a harborer) is liable for all injury or damage caused by wild animals kept by the defendant, regardless of what measures are taken to prevent damage (i.e., no breach of the duty of reasonable care need be found). Wild animals in Spokane

This is a strict liability offense (the plaintiff does not need to show negligence). Please, note, "a wild animal" is not a domesticated animal, and some defendants could argue that their "pet" was domesticated.

Example- Mr. Tarzan, living in downtown Spokane, keeps a pet cheetah. Mr. Tarzan keeps the cheetah behind a state-of-the-art electrified fence. During a hurricane the fence is destroyed and the cheetah escapes and kills three people. Mr. Tarzan is liable for the deaths, regardless of whether he is found to have acted negligently.
Comment- Defendants who keep domestic animals (e.g., dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.) are not strictly liable for damage caused by the animal (i.e., they must be found to have acted negligently, before the defendant will be held liable for damage caused by the animal). Therefore, negligence law analysis should be used to determine liability for damage caused by domestic animals.

Example- Gumby keeps a pet horse named Pokey. Although Pokey is kept in a wooden pen, Pokey escapes and tramples the neighbor's garden. In order for Gumby to be held liable, a court must first determine whether Gumby was negligent by keeping him in a wooden pen.

II. Extremely Hazardous Activity- a defendant is found strictly liable in Washington for all injury or damage caused by extremely hazardous activity, regardless of what measures are taken to prevent damage (i.e., no breach of the duty of reasonable care need be found). Extremely hazardous activities are defined as activities having:Spokane Fire

  • a high risk of severe damage, and
  • a risk of danger that cannot be removed regardless of the precautionary measures taken, and
  • a risk that is unusual for the area in which it is located.
Example- Joe Acme stores dynamite in his basement in a climate controlled room. Acme's house is located in a residential neighborhood. Lightning strikes Acme's house causing an explosion of the dynamite, which causes serious damage to his neighbors' houses. Despite the precautions taken by Acme, he is liable for all damages caused by the explosion.

If you have questions or need legal advice, please contact the Quiroga Law Office here.

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