P will not be able to recover against D in strict liability. Strict liability is imposed on the keeper of a wild animal, but only for harm which proximately results from a dangerous propensity that is characteristic of wild animals of that particular class. Rest. 2d, §507(2). Bears are dangerous because they bite or attack. The risk that they may clumsily knock someone over is not one which makes them more dangerous than a dog or other domestic animal, so strict liability does not apply in this scenario.
C. Defenses: The defenses which may be asserted in an action based on strict liability for animals are discussed infra, p. 337, in the general treatment of strict liability defenses.
A. The doctrine of Rylands v. Fletcher: The path to strict liability for “abnormally dangerous” activities was begun in the English case of Rylands v. Fletcher, L.R. 3 H.L. 330 (1868).
1. Facts of Rylands: The defendants hired an independent contractor to construct a reservoir on their property. When the reservoir was filled up, water broke through from it into some abandoned mine shafts on the property, and then flooded into adjacent mine shafts owned by the plaintiffs. The defendants themselves were not aware of the abandoned shaft, and were therefore not negligent (although the contractor probably was).
2. Lower holding: After the lowest court denied liability, the case came before the Exchequer Chamber, in effect an intermediate appeals court. The court reversed, holding that there was liability because “ . . . the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.” The court analogized to the rules conferring strict liability for trespassing cattle (see supra, p. 330).
3. House of Lords: The case then went to the House of Lords, the final appellate tribunal. The holding of the Exchequer Chamber was affirmed, but was significantly cut back. Liability existed because, the court said, the defendants put their land to a “non-natural use for the purpose of introducing [onto it] that which in its natural condition was not in or upon it”, i.e., a large quantity of water. If, on the other hand, the court said, the water had entered during a “natural use” of the land, and had then flowed off onto the plaintiff’s land, there would have been no liability.