Virtual reality: a personal injury perspective
The advent of new technologies often coincides with an increased interest in the legal ramifications of the use and misuse of those emerging technologies, with drones being of major interest in the last couple of years.
With virtual reality (VR) glasses being one of the bestselling new technologies of recent times, we examine the risks of using VR headsets and the relevant legal issues surrounding those risks.
VR devices for sale include headsets that position mobile phones within a couple of inches of eyes. Other devices have specifically designed headsets to project images into the eyes of the viewer. Users are able to download apps and videos to the mobile phones, and then view these through a special headset in order to play games or watch a 3D show as if they were actually there. Examples of such videos include going on safari or riding on a roller coaster.
However, the uses for VR are not limited to games and videos. Businesses in the education, military, property and healthcare areas are looking to incorporate the use of such tools and realise the opportunity of incorporating this emerging technology.
The developers of many VR products are aware that their products are accompanied with the potential to cause injury, with the maker of one of the best-selling VR devices having a health and safety ‘Warning Notice’ on its website, drawing attention to:
- Potential tripping and movement hazards
- Repetitive stress injury
- Danger of; electrical shock, skin irritation, contagious conditions, loss of awareness, eye strains, altered vision, dizziness, and disorientation; along with numerous other symptoms.
Although the majority of these injuries are likely to be short term, there are ongoing concerns over the long term damage caused by the use of VR.
With companies often under pressure to rush to push out products to compete with devices already on the market, often the long term consequences of using such devices cannot be truly assessed before being released to the general public.
It is common knowledge that use of computer screens can strain eyes, making eye conditions worse. We reported on the toxic risk relating to blue LEDs within our "Emerging risks report 2016" (PDF).
With ongoing concerns about the use of and impact of mobile phones on the health of users, there is a potential that now VR devices are becoming more commonplace in the public domain that such long term damage may become more widespread.
The question of importance to potential clients is: if injuries and illness occur as a result of using VR devices, who would be to blame?
If it is the actual headset which has caused injury, there may be product liability issues which will require manufactures to consider whether the actual design of the device was safe.
The developers of smart phone applications that accompany VR devices need to be aware that they may be potentially at risk of being named as defendants in these types of claim.
There are occupier’s liability concerns, for example, if an injury is caused on either public or private property, then the owner of the property may face a risk of a claim against them.
We are aware that claimant solicitors firms are starting to become aware for the potential of these claims, with a number of them already advertising specific assistance in relation to claims due to using VR.
Manufacturers and developers need to ensure that users of products are well aware of the risks and design devices to ensure protection against those risks.
Insurers and underwriters for those companies need to be made aware of the potential for personal injury claims, and the concerns and risks involved with VR products. Companies that are considering the use of VR within the workplace need to consider the risk to employees and make sure suitable training is provided.
This is a developing area of law, and with the sale of VR devices very likely to continue to increase in the future, we expect that the number of personal injury claims relating to VR will increase also.