Robots are gaining traction in every industry. The fastest-growing sector of robotics is called "cobots," or collaborative robots, and they're being introduced even faster. Robots have been around since the 1960s, but cobots can do much more than mere robots. They've even tried using them as security guards.
That did not work out. As described in Risk & Insurance magazine, a shopping center tried out the collaborative robots to bolster their security personnel. Almost as soon as the 300-lb., egg-shaped cobot was switched on, things went south. Even with all its motion sensors, alarms and live video, it didn't understand what was happening when a toddler tried to play with it. The cobot knocked the child to the sidewalk and ran over his feet.
"Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways," said a senior vice president at Marsh, a risk management firm. "The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions."
Would an injurious robot lead to a workers' comp claim or a product liability claim?
The question in Risk & Insurance, and the question we're asking, is what to do if a robot -- or cobot --injures you. Suppose you were working on a construction site, and a robotic bricklayer did something that injured you. Would you file a workers' compensation claim or a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the robot?
The answer might be both. Since you were injured at work, you would definitely qualify for workers' comp, even if the faulty robot wasn't your employer's responsibility. The workers' compensation system is set up so that fault is generally not an issue at all.
However, the fact that you have a valid workers' comp claim doesn't mean that you don't have a perfectly reasonable claim against the manufacturer of the robot. In fact, every company in the supply chain that manufactured or distributed the robot could potentially be held liable for any injuries it caused.
So what you should really do if a robot injures you is talk to an attorney who has experience in both workers' comp and third-party liability suits. That way, you can choose the most advantageous strategy for recovering your rightful compensation.