Courts attempt to hold shopping chains liable for their customers’ accidents for which they are not to blame and which were beyond their control. However, shops should not be brought to answer on a strict liability basis.

Recently courts have been noted in certain cases to try and hold shops liable for customers’ accidents pursuant to Article 435(1) of the Civil Code. This basis of liability is independent of the defendant’s fault. Such line of authority does not seem to be right, but for shop owners it may be a reason for concerns.

Strict liability

Under civil law, damages liability is generally based on fault. In simple terms, you are liable if you are to blame. But this is not an ironclad rule. There are some exceptions, including for establishments and enterprises driven by forces of nature, such as electricity, gas, steam, liquid fuels. The very operation of such enterprises increases the risk of accidents. Therefore a more stringent basis of liability has been provided for them, called strict liability.

With strict liability, the question of fault is irrelevant. A company may be liable in damages despite its conduct being appropriate and lawful. It may be liable even if it is entirely blameless.  And it will have little room for manoeuvre when defending such a claim. The only effective defence is to prove that the harm was caused by force majeure, the claimant or a third party for which the company is not responsible. In practice, avoiding strict liability tends to be difficult.


The article is also available in  Rzeczpospolita on-line.