Product Liability and Government Regulation
(January 2-January 22)
The Titanic, the Concorde, the Ford Explorer and many other products involve both risk and benefit to society. Risk can include personal injury or threats to other protected interests such as privacy. New technology also creates new forms of property and new legal relationships. International trade also brings conflicts in technical and legal culture. Legal systems protect the public both directly, in the form of mandatory regulations, and indirectly, in the form of imposing financial liability. This course covers both approaches and is designed to familiarize the student with the legal issues in the product design process. The course uses a series of design decisions that led to physical or social disasters and the regulations or litigation that interacted with the design decisions. Case studies range from traditional themes, such as product safety and environmental regulations, to developing issues such as Internet regulation. The course stresses legal and ethical issues in product design, including the legal obligations to report defective products. Current case studies include the Gulf oil spill, volcanic ash in aircraft engines, image quality in telemedicine, the man-machine interface in automatic pilots, and the use of mathematical risk models in regulation.
The course is open to all upper division students and has different requirements for engineering and non-engineering students. Engineering students write on the design process itself, Non-Engineers on the social implications of the technological designs.
There is no textbook for this course. Students use a comprehensive set of class notes and materials copied at the Engineering copy center and sold at cost.
Professor Vincent Brannigan has taught Technology and the Law at the University of Maryland for over 35 years. He is an attorney and has also been a visiting researcher or faculty member at University of Frankfurt Medical School, MIT Business School, Georgetown Law School and several Scottish universities. He is assisted in the course by Dr. Bernd Beier, a physician/lawyer and leading German expert on Computer and Information Systems Law. Prof Brannigan and Dr Beier have recently taught a version of this course at Universities in Munich and Kempten, Germany.