Virtual Reality Liability

New forms of media such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are increasingly popular and present novel questions of liability when an accident or personal injury occurs during their use. Virtual reality (or augmented reality) refers to the use of a computer system to change the user’s perceived environment and immerse them in an experience. The most common method of achieving virtual reality is through the use of a headset.

There are a variety of ways someone using an AR or VR headset might injure another person or themselves. The most common cause of virtual reality injury occurs when a user wearing a VR headset unintentionally walks into or hits somebody else. Usually, these injuries are the fault of the VR user, but they can also be caused by a fault in the design of the particular VR system.

Virtual reality, as we think of it, was first created in the 1950s, but it took until 2012 for consumer adoption to occur.  Over the past seven years, the VR industry had grown and is now estimated to be worth 3.3 billion dollars. Before 2012, tort lawsuits concerning VR liability were unheard of, but virtual reality-related injuries have now become a reality to which our legal system must adapt.

Virtual Reality Injuries and Liability

VR systems can cause different types of distress or injury. Some VR effects, such as a strobe effect, may cause seizures. A person may feel harassed while using a VR program. Or an augmented reality system could provide faulty directions, resulting in emotional or bodily harm. Because VR systems cause a range of injuries and because of the ways in which the injuries occur, liability is not always straightforward.

When the injury is caused by the user, any resulting lawsuit usually involves negligence liability, alleging that the user failed to perform his or her duty of care. In contrast, when the VR or AR system itself is at fault, the manufacturer may be liable under product liability theory, under the theory that the product was defective. Since manufacturer issues often revolve around the information given to the user of the system, determining liability can be difficult.

Liability for injuries caused by improper information given to the virtual reality user depends on the type of incorrect information that is relayed to the user. When an AR or VR system gives incorrect locational directions or has another defective function, the manufacturer is likely to be held liable for the injury.

The manufacturer can also be held responsible for endangering the consumer with any system malfunctions that endanger the user’s health. VR systems have malfunctioned in the past by blinding users with a flash of light or causing seizures with strobe effects. The responsibility for malfunction injuries consistently falls on the AR or VR manufacturer.

More about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Liability

Determining liability for injuries stemming from the use of virtual reality and augmented reality systems presents complex factual and legal issues. After more than half a decade of repeated consumer interactions with VR technology, some rules have emerged while others are still evolving.

LawCash is a pioneering litigation financing company and provider of pre-settlement funding, settled-case funding, and surgery funding to injured plaintiffs awaiting the resolution of their cases. For those who have suffered VR or AR injury and are struggling with bills and life expenses, LawCash pre-settlement funding can help.

Learn More about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Liability

For an in-depth legal study of virtual reality liability issues: Law, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality by Mark A. Lemley & Eugene Volokh

Washington Post Overview of virtual reality and augmented reality tort lawsuits: Tort Lawsuits against VR/AR Companies when Users Physically Injure Outsiders

For a history of consumer virtual reality: A Brief History of Oculus