Can Virtual Reality Pose Real World Risks?

January 25 2017 | Blog
  • Last year, a host of VR headset products hit the market, much to the excitement of tech enthusiasts. These devices have caused users to not just chart uncharted new virtual territories, but very real new legal ones as well. That is because users encounter all sorts of health and injury risks when they use these devices.

    Anticipating these risks, manufacturers have attempted to sidestep liability while possibly preventing injuries through device warnings, disclaimers and quasi-legal statements in manuals and online information portals. The only problem is that, while users have a responsibility to watch out for their own health, device manufacturers have a much more serious responsibility to notify them of the dangers and build products with consumer health and safety in mind.

    Therefore, when it comes to VR injuries, the law will no doubt blaze new trails in consumer protection and product liability while developers carve their own path through what was once thought possible.


    Video Games, Entertainment Devices, and Consumer Health Risk


    Video games have raised new legal questions on a consistent basis, although over time many of these questions have been settled as we became familiar with the hardware. The earliest consumer safety and liability concerns arose over epileptic seizures resulting from flashing lights in video games. Now, all consoles carry a seizure warning, but game makers are also urged to avoid lighting designs that are more likely to trigger seizures than others.

    While other consumer safety lawsuits arose over similar health issues, one of the most relevant, recent tests for innovative hardware came when Nintendo released its popular Wii console. The console’s design used gyroscopic feedback and accelerometers in its controllers, allowing users to gesture with them instead of just being restricted to button presses. What resulted was that many players attempting to hit an on-screen tennis ball would become a little too enthusiastic, flinging their controllers, shattering their expensive TVs and sometimes hitting other people through play.

    At least one class action suit was brought up, which was dismissed, but Nintendo covered their bases by shipping new consoles with sturdier wrist straps and soft controller protectors as well as issuing these items free-of-charge to current console owners and accompanying their startup screens with a slew of health and safety warnings.


    VR Liability Changes the Worldview of Health Risks


    Now that VR headsets have officially entered the market, we are seeing a repeat of the issues mentioned above but from a unique perspective, both literally and figuratively.

    For one, VR users have their vision obscured, meaning they are more likely to bump into objects, hurt other people or perform behaviors they would not normally because their senses are dulled. Adding the effective immersion of VR worlds only enhances this problem by confusing our brains. A common example is a user attempting to lift an object that looks heavy in a game, but flinging up their hands and losing balance when the object proves imaginary and weightless.

    There are also issues related to cognitive and motor disabilities or impairments that can be triggered in a VR environment. Nausea, eye strain, vertigo, disorientation, blackouts and even seizures are possible.

    Once again, consumers are expected to share or take on the entire burden of liability while companies cover their bases with disclaimers, but consumers are at a disadvantage when it comes to predicting and preventing personal injuries. VR headsets are new technology, after all, which means that companies who manufacture devices and games will be far more familiar with them and have far more opportunities to anticipate risks and mitigate them than someone who has owned a device for a few days.

    There will no doubt be many landmark cases in the near future while the details of product liability for VR headsets is discussed, but in the meantime, consumers should know that they have a right to pursue compensation for their personal injuries.

    If you have been physically injured or have encountered a debilitating health condition as a result of VR product use, know that you may be able to recover your losses with the help of a defective products lawyer in Kentucky or Tennessee. Contact us today using our toll-free number or our convenient contact form to receive a free case evaluation and potentially start your case today!

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