. ULTRAHAZARDOUS ACTIVITY
In most states, the courts impose strict liability in tort for types of activities
they call ultrahazardous . Transporting and using explosives and poisons fall
under this category, as does keeping dangerous wild animals. Injuries caused
from artificial storage of large quantities of liquid can also bring strict liability
on the one who stores. For an example of the unusual dangers of ultrahazardous
activity, see Sidebar 10.11 .
Some states have
cause accidental injury
by the standard of
The Purity Distilling Co. had filled the enormous
steel tank on the Boston hillside with two million
gallons of molasses to be turned into rum. Unusually
warm weather caused the molasses to expand.
On January 15, 1919, with sounds like gunfire as
the restraining bolts sheared, the tank exploded.
A wave of hot molasses 30-feet high raced down
the street toward Boston Harbor, faster than people
could run, engulfing entire buildings. Before it
subsided, 150 people were injured and 21 drowned.
“The dead,” reported the Boston Herald, “were like
It took months to clean up the harbor. It took six
years to resolve the 125 lawsuits that followed. The
artificial storage of large quantities of liquid can be a
sticky matter indeed.
Source: Anthony V. Riccio, Portrait of an Italian-American Neighborhood
>> sidebar 10.11
The Great Molasses Flood
17. OTHER STRICT LIABILITY TORTS
The majority of states impose strict liability upon tavern owners for injuries
to third parties caused by their intoxicated patrons. The acts imposing this
liability are called dram shop acts. Because of the public attention given in
recent years to intoxicated drivers, there has been a tremendous increase in
dram shop act cases.
Common carriers, transportation companies licensed to serve the public,
are also strictly liable for damage to goods being transported by them. Common
carriers, however, can limit their liability in certain instances through
contractual agreement, and they are not liable for (1) acts of God, such as
natural catastrophes; (2) action of an alien enemy; (3) order of public authority,
such as authorities of one state barring potentially diseased fruit shipments
from another state from entering their state; (4) the inherent nature of
the goods, such as perishable vegetables; and (5) misconduct of the shipper,
such as improper packaging.
One legal scholar concludes that “the crucial controversy in personal injury
torts today” is in the area of damages. For dramatic examples of the size of
recent awards, refer to Sidebar 10.12 . Juries determine the size of damage
314 PART 3 Legal Foundations for Business
>> sidebar 10.12
Highest Jury Tort Awards of 2010
EVENT CAUSING INJURY JURY AWARD IN MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
1. Pharmaceutical products liability causing hepatitis
2. Products liability for secondhand asbestos exposure
to worker’s laundry.
3. Verdict against a cigarette company for providing
deceased woman free cigarettes when she was a child.
4. Products liability for design defect in a Ford Bronco
5. Negligence verdict against a bus company to seven
passengers injured or killed while riding in an
unlicensed commercial van.
6. Verdict against the world’s largest law firm involving
malpractice and intentional interference with business
7. Products liability against a cigarette company involving
lung cancer death.
8. Products liability for production defect of a carburetor
in an airplane crash.
9. Negligence in a natural gas explosion causing death
at a plant.
10. Cigarette products liability for lung cancer death. $ 80
Note: Although virtually ignored in news media headlines, the damages in almost all of these large jury verdicts were reduced significantly. In some
instances the judge reduced the damages as a matter of law. In other cases, appeals courts reduced damages or reversed the trial court. In many cases,
however, the parties simply negotiated a reduced settlement to avoid the risk of an appeal that upheld or reversed the damages entirely. In reading
about large jury verdicts, this final outcome is an important point for you to remember.
awards in most cases, but judges also play a role in damages, especially in
damage instructions to the jury and in deciding whether to approve substantial
18. COMPENSATORY DAMAGES
Most damages awarded in tort cases compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered.
The purpose of damages is to make the plaintiff whole again, at least
financially. There are three major types of loss that potentially follow tort
injury and are called compensatory damages. They are:
• Past and future medical expenses.
• Past and future economic loss (including property damage and loss of
• Past and future pain and suffering.