The liability of robotic and autonomous systems - available remedies for injury or damage caused by autonomous systems

News | Posted on Wednesday 21 October 2020

In this second post, I discuss the remedies available to a person who has suffered harm by an autonomous system.

Available remedies for injury or damage caused by autonomous systems

In my first post, I discussed the liability of autonomous systems under the United Arab Emirates (UAE) law.

I mentioned that several laws govern the liability in the UAE and discussed in detail the Civil Code provisions. In particular, the regime of "tort" or "acts causing harm" and who can be liable when an autonomous system causes damage or injury.

It is worth mentioning that I am discussing the UAE law provisions in particular as the UAE National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031 spans several sectors, including healthcare and transport, and is intended to enable the "UAE to become the world's most prepared country for artificial intelligence."

If we soon see self-driving cars on the streets of the UAE questions will arise on liability and policy issues: I hope that these posts will shed some light on what to expect, the gaps, and recommendations for the future.

In this second post, I discuss the remedies available to a person who has suffered harm by an autonomous system.

The main remedies are civil and criminal. In a civil claim or a product liability claim, the injured person can seek damages. In a criminal claim, the person can seek imprisonment, a fine, or diyah (blood money) in the case of a death.

A - Civil Code

Article 282 of Federal Law No 5 of 1985 – Civil Code (the “Civil Code”) states: “the author of any tort, even if not discerning, shall be bound to repair the prejudice”.

The burden of proof lies on the person seeking compensation; where he or she must show the Court, by presenting supporting documents, the actual damages sustained, whether an injury or damage to property for example.

The injured person must establish that there is an actual damage and also establish a link between the action of the system and the damage sustained.

In the case of an autonomous medical diagnostic system, for example, it may be difficult to prove a link between an error in the design of the system and the damage caused, opposed to proving a link between a human error made by the medical practitioner in a classic example of a medical malpractice case.

In the case of a supervised (not fully autonomous) machine learning system, the matter may be even more complicated.

Article 292 of the Civil Code states that “In all cases the indemnity shall be assessed according to the amount of harm suffered by the victim, together with loss of profit, provided that is a natural result of the harmful act.”

The damages or compensation is assessed based on the injury, severity and other factors. Unlike western regimes, the amount of compensation granted by courts is not usually high.

The courts can award compensation not only for physical damage but potentially moral damage, loss of earnings, loss of opportunity, and potential future damages. 

The courts in the UAE are not obliged to provide the basis of their calculation for compensation.

B - Criminal claim

If an injury or death is caused by an autonomous system then, in addition to the right of the injured party to claim compensation in a civil claim, there is a right in a criminal one.

It is most likely that the harm caused by an autonomous system would be qualified as a misdemeanour under Article 29 of Federal Law Number 3 of 1987 the ("Penal Code"), where the remedies are:

  1. Detention
  2. A fine in excess of one thousand Dirhams
  3. Diyah (a Sharia law-derived principle equivalent to compensation and granted by the courts to the family of the deceased by the person causing the harm)

The judge can order the above three sanctions concurrently.

However, article 299 of the Civil Code mentions that “Compensation shall be payable for any harm caused to a person. Provided that in cases in which the diyah (blood money) or arsh (shari’a damages for personal injury not resulting in death) are payable, they shall not be payable in addition to such compensation unless the parties agree to the contrary.”

C - Product liability - Consumer Protection Law

Federal Law No. 24 of 2006 on Consumer Protection and its Executive Regulation (“Consumer Protection Law”), is the legislation relating to product liability. 

The Consumer Protection Law mentions that "providers" are liable for defective products meaning that anyone who is involved in the circulation of the product may be liable, this includes manufacturers and suppliers.

There is no need to prove that the provider was negligent as a duty of care is presumed so the provider would be held liable if the damage occurs due to defect or errors in the design of the autonomous system. This is a strict liability-based regime like western regimes.

The Consumer Protection Law is relatively new. So far consumer protection regime has been used in the UAE in complaints against a provider for repair, replace or refund of a defective product.

Injured persons still use the general provisions of the Civil Code for claiming compensation for damage suffered, but in the case of autonomous systems, we may see a rise in product liability claims, using the Consumer Protection Law provisions in addition to the Civil Code, to seek compensation.

In conclusion, the remedies are mainly compensation granted by the courts. The injured person, or the person sustaining the damage to his or her property, will have recourse against the provider of the autonomous system and potentially others, depending on the facts of each case and while taking into consideration that the burden of the proof relies on the claimant.

I will compare the UAE regime to other regimes in my next post.


Tarek Nakkach
Regional Legal Counsel - UKIMESA

Hewlett Packard Enterprise
and AAIP Programme Fellow 


Read the blog on Medium

This post is intended to be used for information purposes only and not as legal advice.

For the purpose of this post, the term autonomous systems covers robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) software or algorithms; any system that could function without human intervention or control. The focus from a legal point of view is on the term “autonomous”.