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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
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    4

    Question Corporate Manslaughter

    Hi all, got a law question for you all.
    I am currently freelancing for a company doing web design, no contracts or anything have been signed.

    They have me working on a system for the NHS which will allow people to escalate issues to their managers and their managers managers etc.
    At the time of undertaking the job the system was not going to be used in a court of law but now it is if needed. In cases like corporate manslaughter.
    The question Iím asking is who would be liable if the system failed and escalations were not sent to managers and because of that someone died?

    For example:

    If someone knows that there is legionnaires disease in one of the water tanks and they use the system Iím developing to tell their manager that they have a problem and for some reason the system fails and never sends out an email to the manager. Because of this the tank is never fixed and someone dies. When the case comes up in court who would be liable for the death, would it be the first person because the just relied on 1 system to get it fixed or me who developed the software which failed?

    Hope that made sense.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Posts
    9,096

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    There would probably be some shared liability.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
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    4

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    Is there anything i can do my end to make it easier for me?

    When i started the project everything was fine but now if theres a risk of me going to prison for indirectly killing people id like to know what my options are.

    Thanks

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
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    9,096

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    Quote Quoting ShabbaRanks
    View Post
    Is there anything i can do my end to make it easier for me?

    When i started the project everything was fine but now if theres a risk of me going to prison for indirectly killing people id like to know what my options are.

    Thanks
    This is why it is almost impossible to talk in terms of generalities.

    Contact an attorney. Have him/her work up a liability waiver that you would include in your EULA.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    3,835

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    I would not use the term Manslaughter, try 2nd degree murder or such.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
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    4

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    Quote Quoting BOR
    View Post
    I would not use the term Manslaughter, try 2nd degree murder or such.
    Sorry i dont quite understand

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    3,835

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    Quote Quoting ShabbaRanks
    View Post
    Sorry i dont quite understand

    You seem to imply some type of neglect or forseeable issue will/may result in a possible death?

    This does not fit any Manslaughter definition I have ever read, Voluntary or Involuntary manslaughter.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    4

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    The system is not designed to break and i have no knowledge of any flaw in the design. However in the event of the software having a bug that has not been found in the testing phase i just wanted to know what the probable outcome would be

  9. #9

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    If you are concerned about being liable for a possible error caused by your software, then you need to purchase liability insurance. That is exactly what liability insurance is for. Alternatively, you could insist on a contract defining your relationship with your client organization and insist that they indemnify you (i.e. assume liability) if something went wrong in the use of the system you develop. That might be difficult to get from them, however.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Key West, FL
    Posts
    2,350

    Default Re: Corporate Manslaughter

    Nobody in your situation has ever been arrested on the basis that you outline that I am aware of.... and there is no published case law to support the idea that a computer programmer could be arrested for the failure of a computer program.

    However, you are facing civil liability. As said, you need to get insurance. Actually your "business" should be a corporation with insurance.

    The job you are doing has changed very significantly if the programming suddenly needs to provide a system that will stand up in court. You will have to build in alot more error checking, backups, message confirmations, a log system with tracking. You will probably have to write a manual for it with flowcharts, etc.

    They have changed the job materially and they have exposed you to significant legal liability. Nothing might go wrong, but I know Murphy always has a way of showing up. There might even be national security implications to what you are working on.

    At minimum you need to have an attorney come up with a contract and liability release that the customer needs to sign.

    I have won SBIR programming contracts with CDC, DOE, and DOD so I know a little of what I speak. Not really a programmer but know enough to manage a bunch of programmers and electrical engineers who worked for me.

    Or you can just take your chances...

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