Ask the Lawyer: Can I sue a robot that harms me?
Q: Are robots subject to laws?
A: The well-known author Isaac Asimov created the fictional “Three Laws of Robotics.” The first rule is that a robot may not injure a human being, the second that the robot must obey orders (so long as doing so does not conflict with the first rule), and then that a robot can protect itself so long as there is no conflict with the first and second rules.
All kidding aside, robotics law is evolving. If a robot is considered a product, the law of products liability may well come into focus (which can mean strict liability).
Another avenue of recourse is agency law. For example, a surgery is carried out in large part by a robotic device. If something is done (or not done) that rises to the level of medical malpractice, the hospital and/or the supervising doctor may be liable because the robotic device is deemed their agent. If a drone causes injury, liability traces back most likely to the owner. In sum, robots are indeed subject to laws, but just who is liable and on what basis will turn on the circumstances.
Q: In just a matter of years, marijuana has become legal in some states; there are cars that drive themselves; and artificial intelligence is real. I presume there are laws for all of this?
-F.D., El Segundo
A: An attorney has to keep up with the laws as they evolve. New or further interpretations of rules are needed since we do not have a static society. The guidelines that affect our behavior – including what is permissible and what is outlawed – have to be updated in part for our own protection.
The notion of an intersection without a red light, yellow light, and green light, means accidents are not just likely but inevitable. Yes, with advances in technology there will be a need for laws that keep up with the times, and that seek to maintain order without unduly impacting our rights.
Facebook is an example: A fun social media site, but with it has come concern about privacy issues, exploitation by those with nefarious objectives, and problems with data breaches. Yet, there are complaints we already have too many laws, and far too many regulations.
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears on in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com.