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Product Liability And Artificial Intelligence: Who’s At Fault?

Product Liability and Artificial Intelligence: Who’s at Fault?

Product Liability Laws in Canada

According to the Constitution Act in Canada, manufacturers have a duty to sell reasonably safe products and to inform users of any risks or hazards associated with their products. Those who are injured because of an unsafe product design or were not aware of the risks involved with a product could be eligible for compensation for damages or injuries sustained. For example, if a lawn mower did not have any clear warnings of the risks involved with operating it, the lawn mower company could be held liable for any injuries that arise from its use. Consumers can also be eligible for compensation when a product has a defective component that directly causes them harm.

Product liability laws are designed to reasonably protect consumers from harm. A consumer is only protected if they are using the product as it was meant to be used. Bizarre or unusual use of a product resulting in injury, will typically not hold a manufacturer responsible as it would not be a reasonably foreseeable risk for the manufacturer to set out to prevent.

To win a product liability case, the plaintiff must prove that:

  1. The manufacturer had a duty of care;
  2. There was a clear design flaw / defective component / lack of notice of risks; and,
  3. Harm was a direct result of the fault in #2.

How These Laws Apply to Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI systems use machine learning which allow the system to become “smarter” as it receives more data.

With technology making ground-breaking advancements at an ever-increasing rate, it can be difficult to understand the legal principles that apply to new technological developments. Smartphones, automated business processes, home assistance systems and self-driving cars are only a handful of the most powerful pieces of technology we see and use in our everyday lives. But who is liable if a self-driving car causes an accident? Or if a mobile robot causes you to trip and fall? Or if Siri gives you incorrect information, causing you indirect harm? These are all scenarios that can and do arise in our lives today. How can the law award proper remedies to these problems?

Applying the above product liability principles to products that use artificial intelligence (AI), it can seem rather straight-forward. Simply, if a product does not work as intended, and this causes damages or injuries to an individual, they have a claim to make against the creators of the product. The difficulty that arises is figuring out who is to blame. AI is hugely complex with sophisticated programming which allows the systems to constantly learn. There are numerous factors and pieces that could be the cause of an AI-induced accident. It can be extremely difficult to even pinpoint what the defect was, let alone who was responsible for said defect. To further illustrate the problem, let’s look at two different examples.

Harm ‘Caused’ by an AI System?

In a different example of an accident in the U.S., a Florida man was killed when using the autopilot mode on his Tesla Model S vehicle. Because of the bright sky, his car failed to recognize a tractor trailer driving across an intersection. As a result, the car drove directly into it at approximately 100 km/h. Looking from the outside-in, this seems like Tesla’s fault, right? The judge ruled that the driver was the one at fault for this accident. Tesla’s autopilot mode was designed for straight driving, to detect cars in front of and behind it. The autopilot mode was not meant for driving through intersections. It was deemed that the car was working as intended and did not have a defect. This was the driver’s fault for improperly using the feature. This demonstrates how incorrect product usage can leave a consumer without any legal compensation. Users of products powered by AI must be careful to still exercise a reasonable degree of care and caution, or risk liability for an accident involving an AI product.

So, is AI Good or Bad?

While it may seem scary putting AI in control of your life, like in a self-driving car, it’s been shown to be extremely safe when used correctly. As technology continues to advance, these AI systems will progressively become safer and safer. Nonetheless, in the unfortunate circumstance of product failure or misuse resulting in harm, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the legal recourse available. If you or someone you know needs help with a product liability claim, having an experienced lawyer by your side can ensure you get the compensation that you deserve.

Looking for more information? Read our page on product liability claims in BC.

Have a question about this topic or a different legal topic? Contact us for a free consultation. Reach us via phone at 250-888-0002, or via email at

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