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EU proposals to make it easier to sue makers of AI systems & drones

The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled proposals to make it easier for consumers to claim compensation from manufacturers of artificial intelligence (AI) products including robots, drones or smart-home systems if they have caused them harm.

The AI Liability Directive aims to provide more legal clarity for manufacturers and consumers as the use of AI grows exponentially, the Commission said.

“While considering the huge potential of new technologies, we must always ensure the safety of consumers,” Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said in a statement. 

“Proper standards of protection for EU citizens are the basis for consumer trust and therefore successful innovation. New technologies like drones or delivery services operated by AI can only work when consumers feel safe and protected,” he added.

Under the proposals from the EU’s executive, the burden of proof in case of injury or damage due to AI-enabled products will still be on consumers.

But it will be alleviated with a so-called “presumption of causality” that will address the difficulties experienced by victims in having to explain in detail how harm was caused by a specific fault or omission, which can be particularly hard when trying to understand and navigate complex AI systems.

Victims will also have more tools to seek legal reparation through a right of access to evidence from companies and suppliers, in cases in which high-risk AI is involved.

For instance, in case of damage caused by a drone delivering a package where the operator did not respect the instructions of use or because the provider did not follow the necessary requirements, victims will have the right to ask the court to order the disclosure of information about the high-risk AI systems involved to identify the person that could be held liable and find out what went wrong.

Meanwhile, appropriate safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the companies’ sensitive information and trade secrets are protected. 

This will need to be approved by member states and MEPs before it can come into force. 

The Commission also unveiled an update to its Product Liability Directive that would make manufacturers of tangible or intangible products liable if the products they sell are unsafe. This will apply to software updates if they make the product unsafe during its lifetime. 

“The Product Liability Directive has been a cornerstone of the internal market for four decades. Today’s proposal will make it fit to respond to the challenges of the decades to come,” internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said in a statement. 

“The new rules will reflect global value chains, foster innovation and consumer trust, and provide stronger legal certainty for businesses involved in the green and digital transition,” he added.

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