As the world becomes more interconnected with the introduction of products that communicated with each other via the Internet, the term “Internet of Things” has been informally adopted to describe this rapidly-expanding sector of the world’s social and technological environment. In today’s post our defective product and personal injury lawyer will provide and introduction to the evolving field of personal injury law as it relates to this rapidly expanding technology.
Broadly speaking, the Internet of Things is composed of electronic devices that are 1) potentially connected to one another by the Internet, 2) capable of routinely transmitting data about themselves to another location, and 3) are controllable by another device or by their own internal programming. By this definition the Internet of Things includes thousands of devices such as home security monitors, electronic medical records, traffic control devices, “self-driving” cars and trucks, and even the national power grid that is essential for all such devices to function properly.
In the majority of cases, Internet of Things devices have functioned as intended and malfunctions go unnoticed until a major problem occurs. Unfortunately, given the fact that many devices are controlled or monitored from a central location, a failure at one level of organization often leads to a “cascade” of failures in “upstream” or “downstream” systems. When such failures occur, and when a failure causes an injury or some other injury, the manufacturers of these devices may be liable for the payment of damages to those who suffer a loss that can be directly linked to a defective product.
In the United States, the courts have recognized three rather broad (and sometimes overlapping) sets of circumstances under which a defective product liability lawsuit could be justified: 1) negligence, 2) strict liability, and 3) breach of a stated or implied warranty. Let’s look at each of these categories and how they might apply to defective products that are a part of the Internet of Things.
Broadly defined, negligence by a manufacturer occurs when that manufacturer fails to recognize that one if its products contains a defect. In the Internet of Things, a manufacturer of a home security system may use a software package that fails to automatically notify the local fire department if a smoke detector senses that a fire has broken out. Regardless of whether a defect was known at the time the device was created, if it can be shown that a manufacturer’s product included a defect, the manufacturer may be held liable for damages due to negligence.
The doctrine of strict liability holds that the manufacturer of a product is liable for damages caused by its product if it can be demonstrated that a product’s design or manufacturing process involved the introduction of a defect and that the manufacturer failed to warn the user of the defect’s presence and its potential for causing harm.
If a manufacturer markets a product with the promise that its product will perform in a certain manner, the manufacturer has made a warranty to the product’s eventual user. Such a warranty can be either explicit, where it is presented in writing, or implicit (implied). If a device fails to perform in the manner expected, its manufacturer may have breached its warranty and thus expose itself to a defective product liability claim.
Personal injury due to a defective product has always been a complicated area of legal practice due to the fact that it is often difficult to determine the exact reason that a product failed. In some cases, the reason for a failure can be linked to a faulty design or defective component that is incorporated into a final product that is assembled from parts supplied by several manufacturers (such as with an automobile or a home security system). In other cases, the cause of the injury or loss may not be readily obvious, and liability must be determined by a court.
If you were injured and you suspect that a defective Internet device may have led to your injury, you should contact an experienced defective product and personal injury lawyer to arrange a comprehensive review of the facts in your case and to explore the legal options that may be available to you. Since issues such as liability and comparative negligence will vary from state to state, only a local attorney will be able to render an opinion on potential liability and possess the knowledge of your state’s practice and procedure that will determine the success or failure of a product liability / personal injury lawsuit.
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