Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Accusation Related To GPS firm Which Aided Domestic Violence

Too often when I read about a lawsuit filed on behalf of a victim of sexual or domestic violence the commentary is antagonist toward that victim's choice to sue even when lip service is given to caring about people's safety. The reasons for the antagonism are usually framed as logical, but when that logic is analyzed it often isn't nearly as logical as it claims to be.

Here's part of a post on TechDirt about a lawsuit against Foxtrax Vehicle Tracking filed on behalf of a victim of domestic violence:
It sounds as though the guy put the tracking device on the woman's car in order to stalk her. It's difficult to think that anyone could find the company liable here for the actions of the guy. I'm sure it's upsetting that the guy was able to track her, and she has every right to press all sorts of charges against the guy. But the GPS tracking company was merely the technology provider.
The person who wrote this is making a biased claim designed to eliminate accountability for companies which provide services which can clearly be used by people with criminal intent. The defense of the company merely being a technology provider isn't a logical defense. A company that provides technology can and should be held responsible for the choices made by the company or by company employees. Technology is not a free pass from all responsibilities.

The claim made on TechDirt is that this company is being sued "not because they have any actual liability, but because they have money." This is not a statement of fact it is an allegation. The author of the post has assumed that the civil case has no merit and uses the satirical cartoon Bloom County as proof while completely ignoring the real issues raised in the source story.

Companies must be required to act with due diligence related to predictable risks related to their products and services. If due diligence isn't required in this case then it must not be required of any company. Further, civil courts and other branches of the government should stay out of product recalls and we should describe all injuries and deaths which happen through the use of any product as merely "upsetting."

Here are more details about the lawsuit which has been filed using anonymous names for the man who used the GPS tracking service to stalk and for the victim of domestic violence because of safety issues.
The lawsuit claims a Missouri company, Foxtrax Vehicle Tracking Inc., aided and abetted "Jack Doe" to commit assault and battery on "Jane Doe" in 2008, including while she was seven months pregnant. The suit does not state so specifically, but implies that Jack Doe installed a tracking device on Jane Doe's vehicle.

The civil complaint, filed this week in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, names Jack Doe, Foxtrax and "as yet unidentified co-conspirators" as defendants. It says Jane and Jack Doe had a domestic partnership that began in March 2007, and that he was abusive and threatening toward her, "for the sole purpose of restraining the liberty and freedom of movement" of Jane Doe.[...]

The lawsuit also claims that Foxtrax at some point was notified of the situation involving Jane Doe, "but refused to discontinue aiding and abetting" Jack Doe, "purely for the sake of profit."
The allegations that the company was informed that their service was being used to track someone against their will is a key allegation which the post on TechDirt ignored. If they were notified that their service was being used as a tool of domestic violence then they must be liable for the choices made by company employees in response to that notification.

The excuse that a company is merely providing the technology and therefore has no liability for the harm done with the help of their technology must be rejected. Due diligence must be required even if the product is technology.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:48 AM   7 comments links to this post


At May 05, 2010 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merely making and distributing a product, unless malicious intent is predictable and foreseeable, shouldn't be cause for a lawsuit.

Taking this to a simpler level, sugar has been long known to seize an engine when added to a gas tank. Someone with malicious intent to stop someone from driving their car could do this. Is C&H responsible for this known and unintended use of their product?

I am absolutely with you that, once notified, the company representatives had responsibility within their power to do something. But without that awareness, it seems unfair to hold them accountable for a mis-use of their product.

At May 05, 2010 11:46 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, the products and services provided by this company are not analogous to sugar. Your example of sugar in the gas tank is not parallel to a company's services being used to stalk another person. In the case of sugar the company itself is no longer part of the process of harm, but in the case of GPS services they are still part of the process of harm.

Malicious intent is not required for a company to be liable for the harm done by their products. This is true whether the harm is caused by lead poisoning or a crib design which can result in a child strangling to death.

The criminal misuse of GPS services is foreseeable and therefore the company has a responsibility to create safeguards before the predictable outcome is known to them. A failure to have a process to shut off services to those misusing their services is an act of negligence.

At May 05, 2010 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The company could not have known there was mis-use until notified.

Otherwise, following what you're saying, either no one should have GPS at all or no one could buy it as a gift or provide it for another (i.e. as an adult might for a child who drives.) because the company does not know if it might be used for malicious intent.

Maybe I'm not fully following you here. I agree that companies are liable for foreseeable mis-use, but in this case they couldn't know there was mis-use until notified.

At May 05, 2010 10:32 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, the company might not have known that this particular client was misusing their services until notified, but it was foreseeable that this type of misuse would occur and it was foreseeable that this misuse could lead to a stalker committing violence including murder.

What the company did or failed to do related to foreseeable danger from the use of their service cannot be ignored or dismissed as meaningless when it comes to civil liability.

When the case goes to court the exact details of the allegation will be presented and the company will be allowed to present its defense.

Lawsuits are often about more than money. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a lawsuit for a company to make reasonable and appropriate changes to their company policies.

At May 06, 2010 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true.

I agree with your basic point of responsibility and I am no supporter of corporate rights. I wanted to make the point that, until this type of use was known, they could not be held responsible. Once known, they had the responsibility to try to improve on the design to address it.

At May 06, 2010 12:19 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous, since this type of use was easily foreseeable then if they failed to have a design to address this type of use that is something for which a company should be held accountable.

Too often companies seem to deliberately wear blinders until someone is hurt or killed or until they are sued.

At May 06, 2010 2:31 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

Maybe I'm not fully following you here. I agree that companies are liable for foreseeable mis-use, but in this case they couldn't know there was mis-use until notified.

This would only be true if someone begins their assumption at "oh of course no would ever deliberately use a service to commit harm". lol You do not live in reality much, huh?


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