Questions on Strict Liability and Negligence Answered Stemming From West Feliciana Explosion

In 1984, a natural gas pipeline exploded in the parish of West Feliciana resulting in death and destruction to people and property. The pipeline was owned and operated by Texas Eastern and Clarkco was performing work on the pipeline. The pipeline was on Mrs. Winters’ property and Clarkco sued Mrs. Winters for general allegations of negligence or strict liability with regards to the pipeline.

You may have heard the term strict liability before but you are not certain as to what the term actually means. Strict liability means that a person is responsible for damage or loss caused by his or her actions or omissions even if the person is not at fault.

It is irrelevant if that person attempted to take all the possible precautions to prevent injury concerning strict liability cases. With strict liability, the court simply says the person is guilty. It is important to note that not all injuries stem from strict liability crimes. The most common incidences involve people who own wild animals and people who deal with inherently danger instruments. This means that the object itself is very risky to try to control.

An example of this would be if your neighbor owned a pet bear and one day the bear got loose and bit you. The court would not consider how careful your neighbors were when then trained the bear or how big the padlock on the cage was. They will simply see that they took such a big risk in owning a bear, that they are liable. Similarly, if you attend a neighborhood firework display and you are injured, the court also looks at the individual who chose to handle the fireworks, which are considered dangerous instruments. Again, you would likely win against them in court simply because they were utilizing something dangerous that was under their control.

In the pipeline explosion case, the court could not hold Mrs. Winters strictly liable or negligence because she was only the landowner – she had no control over the pipeline. Since she did not own it, she had no duty or authority to maintain or inspect it and therefore was not liable. The first element in a negligence claim is that the defendant must have a legal duty. Here, since Mrs. Winters had no legal duty with regards to the pipeline, there is no possibility of negligence in the performance of a duty
More so, since Mrs. Winters did not own, control, or have the care of the pipeline, she cannot be strictly liable for damages caused by it. Again, strict liability is based upon the ownership, custody, or control of the property causing damage. Other Louisiana have also said that landowners cannot be held liable simply because of their status as a landowner with regards to construction and maintenance of pipelines.

In sum, sometimes individuals take risks and gambles when they decide to try to be in control of something. If it results in an injury, they are automatically at risk. Therefore, think carefully before deciding to be in control of something that is inherently dangerous, such as fireworks at your Independence Day barbecue. Reasons for strict liability are to dissuade reckless activities and to try to reduce the number of injuries.

If you think you might have a strict liability claim or just want to find out more about it, contact the Bernaird Law Firm.

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