Robot Liability

24 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2018

See all articles by Gerhard Wagner

Gerhard Wagner

Humboldt University School of Law; University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: June 19, 2018


The arrival of robots, autonomous software agents and so-called "Internet-of-Things"-devices challenges existing liability systems. In fact, while the operation of legacy products was mostly in the hands of users, autonomous systems such as autonomous cars will be operated by an algorithm that is identical across a whole fleet of vehicles. Thus, products liability will gain in importance. At the same time, the concept of design defect, which is the current workhorse of products liability, becomes illusive.

Another set of problems arise once unbundling occurs, i.e. hard- and software components are marketed separately. Here, the allocation of responsibility between users and manufacturers will be difficult. Such difficulties could be overcome if the robot itself was awarded entity status. If robots were "ePersons", manufacturers and users would be shielded from liability, much like shareholders of corporations are today. The resulting externalization of risk may be avoided with the help of insurance mandates.

Some of these problems were raised by the European Parliament's resolution on civil liability for damages caused by robotics, and the European Commission Communication on "Building a European Data Economy".

Keywords: Robots, Autonomous Cars, Artificial Intelligence, Liability, Torts, Delict, Products Liability, Insurance, ePersons, Digitalization, European Law

JEL Classification: K

Suggested Citation

Wagner, Gerhard, Robot Liability (June 19, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Gerhard Wagner (Contact Author)

Humboldt University School of Law ( email )

Unter den Linden 9
Berlin, 10099

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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