Robot Involved in Product Liability Lawsuit

Product liability and industrial robots

Multiple defendants accused of negligence and manufacturing defects

Robots are programmed to do anything a human can – except lie.  Fortunately, computerized robots have a memory that can be accessed for information when things go wrong.

And in 2015, things went very wrong with a Ventra Ionia Main robot.

A woman performing regular maintenance in Ventra’s welding department was killed when a robot crushed her head. The woman was a seasoned employee doing routine work.

According to her husband’s attorney, the woman stood in an area facing where the part was going to be placed by the robot. Her head was situated between the robot arm and the area where the part was to be inserted. Her head was crushed as the part was inserted.

The robot isn’t supposed to load a part until the previous one is released. In this case the robot was already loaded with a hitch assembly when the accident occurred, which means the robot reloaded early.

There were no witnesses to the accident, so data from the computer will be integral in the investigation and products liability lawsuit filed by the victim’s husband. Prior to the lawsuit, Ventra denied the family access to the records following the OSHA investigation, which resulted in a $7000 fine, which was later dismissed.

Who gets sued and why

Five companies are named as defendants, three of which are accused of manufacturing defect and defect/negligent design under product liability law. Additional accusations include breach of implied warranty and failure to warn all potential users of the dangers associated with the use of their products. The companies owed the victim a duty of proper design, manufacture and test of their products, according to her attorney.  Defects specifically named in the suit are related to “the robots, robot controllers, robot tooling, part fixtures,  welding process equipment, and/or safety devices.”

Source: Sarah Hurwitz. “Lawsuit filed after woman killed by robotic equipment.” 15 March 2017.
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