In tort law, an activity is considered abnormally dangerous if people don’t commonly engage in it and it presents a high risk of physical harm even when practicing reasonable care. In strict liability cases, this type of activity may be referred to as either “abnormally dangerous” or “ultrahazardous” interchangeably.
Abnormally Dangerous Activity Defined
An activity is abnormally dangerous if it meets the following two main criteria:
- It necessarily poses a significant risk of harm to a person, property, or land of another that exercising even the utmost care can’t mitigate; and
- It is not of common usage
Although the activity doesn’t necessarily need to be uncommon, an abnormally dangerous activity is a kind of activity in which most people don’t regularly engage. For example, while driving a car presents a certain amount of risk of bodily harm, it’s not abnormally dangerous for a majority of people.
The definition of abnormally dangerous activities may vary depending on the state, but there are some that are widely considered abnormally dangerous. For instance, activities such as blasting explosives, disposing of hazardous chemical waste, and the containment or production of radioactive materials are all considered abnormally dangerous on a universal level.
When it comes to blasting explosives such as dynamite, for example, the common view is that it’s impossible to accurately predict the potential severity and extent of a blast, and the activity involves a high risk of harm regardless of how much reasonable care is exercised. Subsequently, people engaged in blasting explosives assume full responsibility for the consequences.
Other activities that can be considered abnormally dangerous include:
- Storing gasoline
- Crop dusting
- Storing explosives
- Burning fields
- Mass use of poisons
- Digging canals
Damages Beyond Physical Harm
Abnormally dangerous activities aren’t necessarily relegated to activities that would result in physical harm alone. These activities can also be considered abnormally dangerous if they put people at risk of emotional pain and financial loss.
For example, a business owner may be able to successfully sue for damages resulting from a nearby blasting site that caused anxiety and unease, along with loss of profits by deterring potential customers.
Generally, if the activity can cause significant personal injury or financial loss, regardless of the amount of care exercised, it is likely to be considered abnormally dangerous in a strict liability case.