Ultrahazardous Activities

“The theory of imposition of strict liability for ultrahazardous activity is that the danger cannot be eliminated through the use of care . . . Where the activity is dangerous only if insufficient care is exercised, ordinary rules of fault are sufficient for allocation of the risk. There is no need for liability without proof of fault, because definitionally if there is damage it will have resulted from negligence and will be compensable.” (Edwards v. Post Transportation Co. (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 980, 987.)

Elements

Strict liability may be imposed on one who:

  1. carries on ultrahazardous activity that
  2. proximately causes damage to another.

(Edwards v. Post Transportation Co. (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 980, 983.)

Factors for Determining “Ultrahazardous”

“An activity is ultrahazardous if it

  1. necessarily involves a risk of serious harm to the person, land or chattels of others which cannot be eliminated by the exercise of the utmost care, and
  2. is not a matter of common usage.”

(Edwards v. Post Transportation Co. (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 980, 983.)

Factors bearing on whether an activity is ultrahazardous are:

  1. existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person or property of others;
  2. likelihood that harm from the activity will be great;
  3. inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care;
  4. extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage;
  5. inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on; and
  6. extent to which the value of the activity to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.

(Edwards, supra, 228 Cal.App.3d at p. 985.)

An activity is a matter of “common usage” if customarily carried on by the great mass of mankind or by many people in the community. (Ahrens v. Superior Court (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1134, 1143.)

Examples of ultrahazardous activities include using hydrocyanic acid gas in fumigating commercial buildings (Luthringer, supra, 31 Cal.2d at p. 498), test-firing a large, solid-fuel rocket motor (Smith v. Lockheed Propulsion Co. (1967) 247 Cal.App.2d 774, 785), oil well drilling (Green v. General Petroleum Corp. (1928) 205 Cal. 328), and using explosives in the vicinity of a residential area (Balding v. D.B. Stutsman, Inc. (1966) 246 Cal.App.2d 559, 564).

Whether an activity is “ultrahazardous” for strict liability purposes is a question of law for the court to decide. (Luthringer v. Moore (1948) 31 Cal.2d 489, 496.)

Useful Rulings on Ultrahazardous Activities

Recent Rulings on Ultrahazardous Activities

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