What Is Legal Liability In Australia Can Be A Bit Confusing?

Legal liability in Australia can be a bit confusing, especially when it comes to negligence and strict liability. These are two different ways the law holds people responsible for their actions. Let’s break down what they mean in simple terms.


Imagine you’re driving a car, and you accidentally hit someone while you’re not paying full attention. Negligence is when someone fails to take reasonable care, and their actions result in harm to another person or their property.

For example, let’s say you spill water on a supermarket floor, and you don’t put up a warning sign. If someone slips and gets hurt because of the wet floor, they might claim negligence. To prove negligence, the injured person needs to show:

  • Duty of Care: The person who caused the harm had a duty to take reasonable care. In the supermarket example, the store has a duty to keep its premises safe for customers.
  • Breach of Duty: The person failed to meet that duty by acting carelessly or not taking proper precautions. Not putting up a warning sign after spilling water is a breach of duty.
  • Causation: The breach of duty directly caused the harm. If the lack of warning caused the slip and injury, there’s a link between the breach of duty and the harm.
  • Damages: The injured person suffered actual harm, like medical bills, pain, or lost wages.

Strict Liability

On the other hand, there are some differences when it comes to strict liability. In some situations, a person can be held liable for harm caused by their actions, even if they didn’t intend to cause harm and even if they were careful. This usually applies to activities that are inherently risky or involve dangerous things.

For instance, let’s say you keep a pet snake, and it escapes and bites someone. Even if you took all precautions to keep the snake secure, you could still be held strictly liable for the harm caused by your pet.

The key points of strict liability are:

  • The activity or situation is known to be risky or potentially harmful.
  • Proof of fault or negligence isn’t required. The focus is on the fact that harm occurred.

Therefore, the main difference between negligence and strict liability is the level of fault required:

Negligence involves proving that someone didn’t take proper care and their actions caused harm, while strict liability doesn’t take carelessness into consideration but it’s more about ensuring that if something harmful happens, someone is responsible, even if they were careful.

In Australia, legal liability can be based on negligence, where someone’s careless actions cause harm and strict liability, where someone is held responsible for harm resulting from an inherently risky activity, regardless of their intentions or level of care.

Understanding these concepts helps individuals and businesses know how the law might view their actions and responsibilities and the types of consequences they may face.

Author info:

John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. John has extensive knowledge in the areas of family law and commercial litigation.

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