Responsibility of the programmer and the owner for the robot in Czech Republic
Programmer and owner responsibility of robots is important topic not only in Czech Republic. Robot as a technology consists of two main components – a hardware and a software. The manufacturer of robots in Czech Republic may be generally liable for the damage caused by the robot, if its owner proves it was caused because of a defect in the robot’s hardware, i.e. a manufacturing defect that affects the behaviour of the entire product. According to law of European Union, “manufacturer” means a) the manufacturer of a material and the manufacturer of the final product or component, b) the importer of the product, c) any person who places his/her name or mark on the product, and d) the person selling the product, unless it is possible to find out who the importer is. This structure creates a wide group of persons who might be held liable for defective product. The Czech Civil Code partly accepts this EU regulation in Section 2939 et seq.
The manufacturer is released from the duty to provide compensation for damage caused by a product defect only if he proves that the damage was caused by the victim or a person for whose act the victim bears liability (Section 2942, paragraph 1 of the Civil Code). So, in case the robot caused damage clearly because it was defective, the manufacturer shall bear the burden of proof, that the damage was caused differently, for example the operator or owner of the robot did not use an instruction manual, or that he taught the robot such behaviour which caused the damage, that robot was not originally capable of.
The programmer is liable for defects in the software. In this case, it is necessary to distinguish between the liability of the programmer, who originally created the product to be used, and the programmer, who has used possibilities of customizing the product and reprogramming it for its further use. We are of opinion, that the entire liability for defects in the software shall be derived out of this distinction. For the programmer who has originally created the robot software, within the Czech Civil Code we might probably also use provisions for damage caused by a product defect. Liability of such programmer shall be considered the same as the liability of the manufacturer for defects in hardware.
Czech courts have developed a certain evaluation test of defectiveness of a product in cases of common products on the Czech market. Defectiveness of the product is proved by its comparison with other identical products manufactured by the same manufacturer. If such comparison leads to the conclusion that a defective product differs from the rest of manufacturer’s similar products in certain element, and this element is capable to cause the malfunction or defect of the product, the defect is, in principle, considered to be a manufacturing defect and it is the manufacturer, who is held liable. Anyhow it is, of course, necessary to prove a causal link between the defect of the product and the damage caused.
This case law is in accordance with European Union law, in particular in accordance with Directive 85/374 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products, in which Article 6 paragraph 1 determines that " A product is defective when it does not provide the safety which a person is entitled to expect, taking all circumstances into account, including : (a) the presentation of the product ; (b) the use to which it could reasonably be expected that the product would be put ; (c) the time when the product was put into circulation. ". This interpretation of the Directive was confirmed in the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
However, it is necessary to realize that the owner or the user of the robot, according to the first concept, will be primarily responsible for everything the robot does autonomously, unless he proves one of the above reason for which the liability might be passed on the manufacturer or the programmer. The owner or the ser shall, in most cases, bear the main burden of proof himself. The first concept, as noted above, approaches to the robot owner as his teacher. One question that remains is of course how can someone really prove, that the behaviour of the robot, that caused the damage, was a manufacturing defect, or defect in programming, and not something the robot learned from his owner.
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