The “Internet of Things” and Product Liability
We are fortunate to live at a time when technology is making a dramatic impact on our quality of life in areas that range from health care to the cars that we drive. But’ like in all other facets of our lives, technology can also present us with the “Dark Side of the Force.”
Many of the devices that we use each day are connected to other similar devices by way of central computers that allow the exchange of data between devices and the central computer and even between the devices themselves. Although this information exchange is intended to improve the performance of these devices, it also means that this same information could be used in ways that could compromise both our privacy and our personal safety. In this article, we will explore how this “Internet of Things” can work in ways that it was not intended to function and the legal rights of victims when things go wrong with this technology.
What, Exactly, is the “Internet of Things”
The definition of the “Internet of Things” or “IoT” is, like beauty, often in the eye of the beholder. In general, the “IoT” can be defined as “a connected network of devices that 1) are designed with the purpose of allowing personal or business communication via electronic means or, 2) a technology that allows devices to communicate with a central location, or each other, for the purpose of exchanging information without the necessary involvement of a device’s owner and/or operator.” This is perhaps better explained by way of an example.
Computers that use the Microsoft Windows® operating system dominate the worldwide personal and business computer industry. Windows® is designed to periodically upgrade itself, usually to correct “bugs” or to correct security issues, by connecting with a web server to receive updated programming. In most cases this is done “automatically,” without requiring that a human be present. The same technology also allows other devices to communicate, and exchange information about their status, with a central location or even with each other by way of microcomputers that are a part of many electronic devices. Together, Windows® computers and devices that contain microcomputers which do not use Windows®, form a part of the “IoT.”
Who is Liable if an “Internet of Things” Device Malfunction Causes an Injury
The law of personal injury in the Internet Age is, quite understandably, still evolving and doing so at a rapid pace. Even so, courts have continued to apply the “old” concepts of “duty,” “responsibility,” and “liability” to cases in which computers may be responsible for personal injuries.
Personal injury law is based on the following principles, all of which were firmly established many years ago.
- Each of us has a “duty,” or obligation, to act in a manner that will not cause harm to another. This duty extends to manufacturers of products that we use in our daily lives.
- If we act in such a way as to cause harm to another, or a product causes an injury to another, then we and the product’s maker are responsible for such harm or injury.
- If we are responsible for an injury, we are therefore liable for any damages that we cause to the injured party.
Even though the law of the Internet Age and the “IoT” is changing, the courts have consistently applied the above-listed principles to cases where a failure of modern technology is alleged to be the mechanism of a personal injury.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Assist “Internet of Things” Accident Victims
When an injury occurs that is potentially the result of some failure, or compromise, of a component related to the “IoT” the first step is to establish who was responsible for insuring the normal function of that component: Is it an individual, a private business, or a government agency? Once “operating responsibility” is determined, it is necessary to learn the cause of that failure. This involves establishing why the failure occurred and if that failure: Could the failure have been foreseen or was it the result of tampering with a system? Finally, can the failure be directly linked to the injury?
Obviously, any one of these questions will usually be hard to answer and finding the answers to all of them as a group will be almost impossible to even the most experienced investigators, much less a private citizen with limited resources. In cases where a failure in the “IoT” may have led to a personal injury, it will usually be necessary to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to determine a proper course of action following an injury. Only the full understanding of the circumstances that lead to an injury, and the advice of an attorney, can lead to justice on behalf of an injured private citizen in the “Age of the Internet of Things.”