Can I Sue a Robot? Artificial Intelligence and Personal Injury Claims

From self-driving cars to smartwatches, we are all becoming more and more reliant on technology in our daily lives. Unfortunately, a defective “smart” device can cause catastrophic injuries.

Below, the product liability team at Phelan Petty discusses the developing field of artificial intelligence (AI) liability.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Fueled by increasingly sophisticated software, chip design, and faster network speeds, artificial intelligence (AI) has improved significantly over the past decade. Today, machine learning algorithms help us evaluate data, drive our cars, and perform complicated, robotic surgeries. We also use AI when we ask our smart speakers to play our favorite songs, find a local restaurant for us, or create a shopping list.

The Gatwick airport, outside of London, England, is even testing an autonomous robot that would park cars in its airport’s long-term parking lots and deliver them to the curb based upon the traveler’s flight information.

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In short, most of us are relying on connected devices and AI every single day. But what happens when the machines don’t work properly, and someone gets hurt as a result?

AI and Connected Devices Can Cause Serious Injuries

While artificial intelligence has the potential to reduce human error and improve our safety, it also comes with its own risks. In 2018, a fatal collision involving an Uber self-driving car and a pedestrian highlighted the fact that these technologies are imperfect. In that case, Uber’s software identified the pedestrian six seconds before the crash but applied the brakes 1.3 seconds before hitting her. If the software had responded immediately, it might have saved the victim’s life.

Similarly, a botched robotic surgery could have catastrophic results. While most robotic surgeries today still require significant human intervention, the technology is improving. Researchers are testing surgical systems that can augment or exceed a surgeon’s skill with AI.

For example, the STAR surgical robot already can stitch bowel tissues better than a human surgeon — and without any intervention from a physician. In the future, it’s possible that we’ll undergo surgeries, cancer treatments, and other medical care from robots — perhaps without the supervision or intervention of a physician.

Who Is Responsible for AI-Related Injuries?

Unlike most traditional products, AI is a complex combination of software and physical machinery. While one company may build the final product, it typically will contain software, chips, sensors, and other components that were designed and manufactured by other companies. Victims may have claims against some or all of these entities, as well as the retailers and distributors who sold the defective or dangerous product.

In certain circumstances, you may have injury claims against a negligent operator (like a driver of an autonomous car or a doctor operating a surgical robot) in addition to your AI product liability claims.

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Because these technologies are developing rapidly and there hasn’t been significant litigation involving AI product liability to-date, there’s also a lot of uncertainty about how courts will handle these cases in the future. However, defense attorneys are already crafting arguments to minimize liability. For example, some defense lawyers believe that AI isn’t a product at all, but a service. This is convenient for them because, in many states, manufacturers and designers are strictly liable for defective and dangerous products, but not for similarly hazardous services.

Other lawyers will argue that manufacturers shouldn’t be responsible for a system’s decisions that developed after its initial programming. As it “learns,” AI systems sometimes make human-like decisions in safety-critical situations. For example, a self-driving car may have to decide whether to crash into a pole or a pedestrian. In these situations, the companies may argue that the machine’s decision was not reasonably foreseeable at the time of its design and manufacture.

Regardless of the defense’s arguments, one thing is certain: AI product liability victims will need an experienced and learned injury lawyer at their side. The AI and technology companies are going to defend themselves aggressively against these claims, and they have lots of money and plenty of “experts” at their disposal. Unless victims work with an equally aggressive and technically adept personal injury firm, they will be at a significant disadvantage.

Phelan Petty: Cutting-Edge Product Liability Attorneys

Phelan Petty’s product liability team focuses on catastrophic injuries caused by defective and dangerous products. To serve our clients, we combine our experience and technical knowledge with that of nationally-respected experts and engineers.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious or life-threatening injuries due to a poorly designed or manufactured product, please contact us today. You can request your no-risk consultation by completing this brief online form or calling 804-980-7100.


Aruni, G., Amit, G., & Dasgupta, P. (2018, July). New surgical robots on the horizon and the potential role of artificial intelligence. Investigative and Clinical Urology. Retrieved from

National Transportation Safety Board. (2018, May 24). Preliminary report: Highway HWY18MH010. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.