Can You Sue A Robot?

Can you sue a robot? 

This week, the International Consumer Electronics Show touted off a few stunning advances in automobile technology, enough to impress even Marty McFly.

Mercedes-Benz displayed its concept F015 luxury car which includes swiveling front seats allowing the front driver and passenger to turn around and socialize with the occupants in the back seat.  As if this wasn’t impressive enough, while the driver is turned around, the car drives itself.

My first thought was that I love this concept.  Imagine your car becoming a comfortable living room on a long road trip.  Just think about pulling out a deck of cards or throwing on a DVD.  Certainly stop and go traffic would be much less stressful.   However, my next thought was apparently inspired by the personal injury lawyer side of me.  What happens when the computer glitches, makes a mistake or crashes? Computers do that, right?  My computer did that yesterday and I lost an email I was writing. But what do you lose when the computer driving your car crashes?  What I know about traffic collisions tells me that it could be a life, it could be your ability to live a life free from pain or injuries.

As a personal injury lawyer, I’m wondering what happens then.  Currently, there is no body of law to identify who is at fault when a computer driven car makes a mistake that harms or kills a person.   Do we automatically blame the “driver” of the car?  The automobile maker?  The computer manufacturer? Do we blame the computer itself?

The legislature will need to decide who is responsible in this situation.  Modern tort concepts suggest that the law will favor allowing remedies for those injured in computer caused automobile collisions.  However, it remains to be seen who will be held responsible for the negligent driving of a robot car.  When people actually start getting injured, lawsuits will follow and the law will develop.

Technology always seems to change faster than the law.  But the law catches up and adapts over time.  After all, the law is still driven by people, not computers.

For now, you can’t successfully sue a robot car, not even in California.

-Michael J. Jeandron, Esq.

Michael Jeandron is an associate attorney in the consumer protection department at The Roberts Law Firm. He can be reached via email by clicking here.

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