The Story of a Cat and a Robot Which Ended in Tragedy For All
Marianne loved her cat more than anything else in the world. After her divorce her cat was all she had to show for her 15 years of love and devotion to her husband who ran off with a younger woman. Well, her cat and also her beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking the California coast and beach below.
Although she was in her early 40s, she was still very beautiful, tone, and took care of herself. It was far too soon to start dating again, and so she stayed home all day, did her exercises, her art, watched her favorite television shows, and snuggled up with her cat, which her husband had named “Theodore” and her cat seemed to like the name, and she didn’t have the heart to change it.
It was that time of year again, Theodore was shedding fur ever so slightly, and Marianne was cleaning the hair off the sofa in the living room with a brush. The cat loved to play when she did that, attacking her hand and the brush, but she hadn’t trimmed his claws lately, so she put the cat outside on the beautiful redwood patio which extended from the back of our house over the cliff, where it was on stilts.
The cat’s favorite play toy was actually a robotic vacuum cleaner, and so she put the robotic vacuum cleaner out with the cat knowing that it couldn’t fall off the patio to the rocks hundreds of feet below, because her husband had installed a kickboard which was a good six or 8 inches high around the perimeter. The house was absolutely gorgeous and it had been in a couple of designer magazines and even Architectural Digest Magazine many years the prior.
The cat just looked at her funny when she put him outside because she always went out there with him, when she read a book or sunbathed. Theodore stood at the sliding glass door for a few moments watching her on the couch brushing the hair. The robotic vacuum was busy going back and forth, and Theodore wasn’t that interested in playing with it at first.
But eventually, her cat started to chase around, stalk it, and then pounce. Once Marianne was completed brushing the couch, she poured herself some iced tea and went over to the window to watch her cat play with his favorite robot toy. Theodore looked up and saw her standing in the glass, and wasn’t paying attention as the vacuum cleaner zoomed toward him.
At the last minute, when it touched one of his front paws, he jumped up, and backwards right in between two of the upright redwood columns holding the railing and over the edge he fell. Marianne started screaming, she didn’t know what to do, there was no way to go down to the rocks below without hiking a good half a mile around where there was a little trail to get to where Theodore was lying on the rocks below.
She didn’t know if he was alive or dead, but nothing could survive that long of a drop. When she finally did reach Theodore her worst fears were confirmed. There was nothing she could do, she was so angry when she got back up to her house she picked up the robotic vacuum cleaner which was still bouncing around the patio and she hurled it off the patio as far she could throw it and watched it crash on the rocks below breaking into 1000 pieces.
Her friend and confidante next door gave her the phone number of an attorney that specialized in high-tech in Silicon Valley. Her friend convinced her to talk to him about suing the robotic manufacture. It turns out that this high-tech attorney was looking for a case where a robot had seriously maimed, or killed a human. The attorney was hoping to cash in on the future of robotics in America, and file a large class-action “finished products liability” claim. Marianne was just what he needed, and being an innovative attorney himself he was figuring out how he could position himself to ride the future wave of robotic artificially intelligent androids and establish new case law putting himself at the forefront.
Marianne was not so sure about this, as she was still sick that she lost her cat. Theodore was all she had left, and now he was gone, she didn’t really want to sue for money, she didn’t really know what she wanted, no amount of money would be bring Theodore back. The attorney figured that in the future finished products liability lawsuits for personal tech robotics used for in-home elderly care would be a huge business and this was just a lucky break needed.
He knew the jury would eat it up, and even though it was only a cat, and he’d hoped he could find his first case where a robot had caused the unexpected, untimely, and unfortunate death of an actual human, this could work out nicely, he thought. Once he gets this case law on the books for the cat case, and if there was a sizable monetary award, he’d be halfway home in the future filing a wrongful death case for a human.
The case took a couple of years, and Marianne was perfect, she cried on the witness stand about how the robotic vacuum cleaner, which was once the cat’s favorite toy, attacked it, and killed her beautiful and wonderful Theodore, how she watched in horror as her cat fell to the rocks below. The jury awarded half million dollars. The judgment shocked the robotic community, and almost overnight insurance companies raised premiums for finished products liability insurance by 150% for all robotics manufactures.
This caused a ripple effect, as all the companies providing robotic in-home elderly care units immediately raised their prices, which also ended up costing the already nearly bankrupt Medicare system, as Congress a year earlier had put in provisions to pay for voice activated and speech recognition wheelchairs, military amputee mind controlled prosthesis, and robotic personal assistants for home ridden elderly seniors with serious ailments or who were physically challenged.
Many startup robotic companies had trouble getting venture capital funding, angel investors, or even the finished products liability insurance they needed to sell their products after that. Large high-tech retailers demanded to be additionally insured on the insurance policies, and would take no less than $10 million aggregate on the policies for the products that these robotic manufacturing companies produced.
The Silicon Valley attorney became very famous and is often cited in the American Bar Association Journal, the futurist magazines, and in other popular high-tech and science magazines. Marianne did not get all the money from the huge award, 45% went to the attorney, and she ended up giving another 15% of the difference to a company which specialized in “structured settlements” and Marianne still cried every night for many months. By the time she finally did receive her money, well over a year and a half later she didn’t even care.
“Theodore VS Robotic Automaton Vacuum Manufacturing LLC (RAVM LLC)” in 2012 turned out to be the case law that started it all. Today, high-tech lawyers, and class action attorneys rule the robotics industry. Some believe that this is what is now stifling jobs in America during this recession and preventing US companies from competing in the global robotics market here in 2025. Many academic law professors believe that this is the case that started it all, but believe that robotics companies must be held accountable for injuries of humans or household deaths from faulty engineering or negligence.
*** Note: this story came to me after reading an interesting article online about the future of robotic law. “Scientists, lawyers mull effects of home robots” By Brooke Donald (AP) – Dec 6, 2009.