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Computer Program Not Subject to Product Liability Regulations (NJ)

June 21, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">New Jersey utilizes a tool to assess risk in the context of pre-trial release and bail conditions, pursuant to the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act. Specifically, as outlined by presiding Judge Rodriguez, “the statute expressly requires courts, when making pretrial release decisions, to impose pretrial conditions that will reasonably assure: (1) the defendant's appearance in court when required, (2) the protection of the safety of any person or community, and (3) that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.” Where this gets interesting is that the Courts utilize a Public Safety Assessment tool (“PSA”) to solve these issues in a data drive format. The PSA is not available commercially.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Rodgers-v-Laura-and-John-Arnold-Foundation.pdf">Rodgers v Laura and John Arnold Foundation</a></em> (D.N.J. June 11, 2019), the Court is deciding whether this PSA is subject to strict liability pursuant to the New Jersey Products Liability Act. Specifically, the Courts utilizes the PSA here, and the PSA advised to release an alleged criminal wrongdoer prior to trial, and that same alleged criminal wrongdoer 3 days later allegedly murdered a third party, Rogers. Rogers’ next of kin brought this action, alleged that the PSA tool developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation is defective and caused Rogers’ death. The Court determined that the PSA was not a “product” as it was not distributed commercially. Indeed, the PSA was developed by a non-profit and, in essence, merely utilizes broad swathes of information in a data driven method to ascertain risk in releasing an arrested individual prior to trial. The Court indicated the lack of commercial availability – or being “for sale”- was fatal to claiming a violation of the NJ Products Liability Act.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Courts continue to show reluctance to imposing strict liability on technological systems that merely collect data and crunch that data to show some sort of result.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Matthew Care for his contribution to this post.  Please contact <a href="mailto:gcoats@wcmlaw.com">Georgia Coats</a> if you have any questions.</p>

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