Virtual Reality Raises New Liability Questions

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( — October 2, 2018) — As virtual reality devices become more common, a personal injury lawyer could find a new field to explore and new clients to represent. Video games have been around for a while now, and an insurance industry expert says lawsuits related to the video game industry could be instructive in what to expect once virtual reality devices gain more of a foothold. Kevin Quinley, of Quinley Risk Associates, says insurers may start adding exclusions related to virtual reality, and questions may arise on the liability of the device makers and sellers.

More and more companies are selling virtual reality headsets. Some of them require the device to be connected to a computer, but many are being developed that do not. It is estimated that 14 million virtual reality devices were sold around the world in 2016. That is expected to increase yearly, and by 2020, it could reach $70 billion in sales. Devices usually sell at about $600 each.

Similar to video games, liability issues could arise over things like long-term physical effects, or the psychological effect that could be brought up. Quinley said even though some suits may be frivolous, if just one is successful, it could create an avalanche of lawsuits.

Already there have been some injuries related to virtual reality. A man ran his car into a police car in Maryland because he was distracted, playing Pokeman Go while driving. There have been people so caught up in the game they were not paying attention to their surroundings, and were robbed or mugged. Whether any of this could cause liability for the makers of the devices remains to be seen.

Quinley also suggests that while insurance companies might add exclusions for those playing the game, there are also people who are not playing the game that could be impacted. Someone could say the person playing the game trespassed on their property, for instance.

There have been some suits against video game makers, and these could be instructive when it comes to virtual reality. Parents of children killed in the Columbine murders sued to claim the shooter had become desensitized due to playing video games. The parents were not successful, but at another time they could be. In another case, a parent sued to say the video game had prompted another child to stab her child. Both those cases failed, but Quinley believes the danger is there for VR makers just as it is for video game makers. Those selling the devices could also face liability.