Yeti Liability on Doctor Who

Who is legally responsible for the damage caused by the Yeti in Doctor Who Web of Fear?

2ndDoctorTARDISProfessor Travers brought the robotic Yeti from Tibet to London after the events of Doctor Who The Abominable Snowmen.

In the 40 years that followed, the good Professor started experimenting on the control spheres that the Great Intelligence used to control the Yeti.

Could Professor Travers be civilly liable for the mayhem that occurred in Web of Fear?

There is no case law directly on point, but there is enough to show a high likelihood the Professor could be liable for some of the damage. The Great Intelligence would be a superseding factor, but the fact remains Professor Travers knew of the dangers, thus subjecting him to liability for the Yeti attacks.

There are no law suits about robot Yeti on a killing spree. However, there is case law about wild animals and robots.

Yes, there was a case about a robot that killed someone.

Wild Animal Liability

2ndDoctor_No_Pet_Yeti_0639_edited-2Cases across the United States holds that there is absolute liability for those who keep wild animals.

You cannot have a pet wild bear and not be responsible if it injures someone. Burns v. Gleason, 819 F.2d 555, 556-558 (5th Cir. La. 1987) citing Vredenburg v. Behan, 33 La. Ann. 627 (La. 1881).

Conversely, if you have a domesticated animal, such as a bull, the issue is one of strict liability. Rozell v. Louisiana Animal Breeders Cooperative, Inc., 496 So. 2d 275 (La. 1986).

The Restatement (Second) of Torts § 519 and § 520 explains that the doctrine of absolute liability applies to the exercise of ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities.These activities cannot be made safe by the “exercise of utmost care.” Roth v. NorFalco, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42032, 22-23 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 29, 2010).

Restatement § 519 states: One who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity is subject to liability for harm to the person, land or chattels of another resulting from the activity, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent the harm. Id.

The test for whether an activity is abnormally dangerous is:

(a) Existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land or chattels of others;

(b) Likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great;

(c) Inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care;

(d) Extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage;

(e) Inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on; and

(f) Extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.

Roth, at *22-23, citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 520.

Based on the above, Professor Travers would have the following troubling legal problems:

a) There was a known high degree of risk of the Yeti going on a killing spree if controlled by the Great Intelligence;

b) There was a high likelihood the harm would be great, as evident by the events in The Abominable Snowmen;

c) There was a high unlikelihood the Professor could make the Yeti safe or eliminate the chance the bodiless Great Intelligence would be able to take control of the Yeti;

d) Working on robotic Yeti controlled by a bodiless entity called the Great Intelligence is not a matter of common usage;

e) The experiments were conducted in London, not a secure lab outside of a populated area;

f) Could the community benefit from being able to control robot Yeti? Perhaps, but we have done OK without them so far.

Gabe Diani, Josh's younger brother, enjoys the fact he has a Doctor Who toy that Josh does not have.
Gabe Diani, Josh’s younger brother, enjoys the fact he has a Doctor Who toy that Josh does not have.

Robots Killing People

Just because there is a case where someone sued over a death involving a robot does not mean we have I, Robot or Rise of the Machines.

The case of Payne v. ABB Flexible Automation involved a person who was killed in an industrial accident with robot in a production of aluminum automobile wheels. The Plaintiff argued the robot was defective and unreasonably dangerous.

The Plaintiff lost on a summary judgment motion, because the Plaintiff did not produce evidence that (1) defendant has failed to use the standard of care that a reasonably careful person would use; and that (2) the failure to exercise this care was the proximate cause of injuries suffered by the plaintiff. Payne v. ABB Flexible Automation, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 13571, 3-5 (8th Cir. Ark. June 9, 1997).

Could anyone killed by a Yeti demonstrate that Professor Travers did not use a reasonable standard of care and that his failure was the proximate cause of the deaths and injuries in Web of Fear?

I say yes.

Doing anything with the control spheres that did not involve a sledge hammer and melting them would be unreasonable. There is no question that because Professor Travers started experimenting with the Yeti control spheres that he awakened a long dormant threat. As such, he should be subject to liability for attacks caused by the Yeti.

 

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.