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The threat of workplace accidents involving robots

Workers nationwide, including in New York, may be concerned about the possibility that robots may replace them sometime in the future. Industrial workers who are already sharing their work environments with robots might have additional concerns. A recent lawsuit shows the potential of robots killing human colleagues in workplace accidents to be real. The husband of a maintenance technician who was killed by a robot in another state in July 2015 filed a wrongful death claim earlier this month.

The woman was a maintenance technician on an assembly line at an auto parts manufacturer. Reports indicate that safety doors separate six isolated cells at the plant to prevent unauthorized entry by robots or humans. Reportedly, a robot entered a cell in which the technician was doing routine maintenance work. She was working on a trailer-hitch when the robot loaded a similar assembly part where she was standing.

The woman was unable to stop the robot from loading the heavy part onto her head. A crushed skull led to her death. It is alleged that the robot should not have been able to enter the cell and deliver a part where one had already been loaded. It is also alleged that several safety devices or systems failed, causing the worker’s death. Five robotics companies are defendants in the lawsuit, all of them having played roles in the engineering of the robots and safety systems, and the integration of the parts and machines at the facility.

New York families who have lost loved ones in workplace accidents may have many questions about how to claim workers’ compensation death benefits and also hold negligent companies responsible when applicable. A logical step may be to consult with an experienced workers’ comp attorney who can explain how a third-party wrongful death lawsuit can be navigated on top of a claim for insurance benefits. It is possible, but after a civil claim results in a monetary amount, any workers’ compensation benefits already paid may have to be repaid.

Source:, “A rogue robot is blamed for a human colleague’s gruesome death“, Ephrat Livni, March 13, 2017

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