ultrahazardous activity

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Ultrahazardous Activity (also known as abnormally dangerous or extrahazardous activity) refers to actions of individuals and entities that involve a high level of danger which typically carries strict liability. Ultrahazardous activity, by its nature, cannot avoid the likelihood of damaging property or individuals, and therefore, states in almost all instances hold defendants strictly liable for any damages resulting from the ultrahazardous activity, meaning no negligence must be proven. Blasting is the most common and is a useful example of ultrahazardous activity because blasting rocks tends to cause damage over large areas without complete control by the defendant. Courts may apply exceptions to strict liability for ultrahazardous activity in some circumstances where the plaintiff contributed to the activity or profited in some way from the activity. 

While most courts tend to agree that defendants should incur liability for ultrahazardous activity, courts may differ in how they determine what constitutes an ultrahazardous activity and may frame similar facts differently. Most courts look to some of the same factors in analyzing the danger: the likelihood of damage, the severity of potential damage, the commonality of the activity, the ability of the danger to be contained, the context of the activity, and the public need for the activity. Activities that have high chances of damage (like blasting) or smaller chances of severe damage (like storing explosives near pedestrians) likely will constitute ultrahazardous activity. However, if the average person does the ultrahazardous activity like driving a car, the defendant will not be held strictly liable for damages. Also, context plays a key role in how a court rules as the same activity may only be ultrahazardous if done in certain circumstances. Lastly, some ultrahazardous activities like transporting gas do not carry ultrahazardous activity because policymakers and courts find that the population depends on the activity to the point that the hazard is necessary. Ultimately, courts will weigh these factors in determining the dangerousness of the activity, but courts will vary in which factors should be determinative in a given case. 

[Last updated in May of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]