Dodging Missiles, Attracting Liability?

Our latest monthly column at Subculture for the Cultured is up. It was inspired by this question from Promethee:

I’m watching Ironman 2 (I know, I’m late) but something that seems to happen quite a lot (and come to think of it happens in like every other superhero movie) is the scene where the hero is being chased by some sort of tracking missiles. At that point, the hero flies at some sort of building and when really close, takes a tight turn. The missiles can’t turn that tightly, so they fly into the building destroying it and killing a bunch of people. Of course, whoever fired the missiles has plenty of liability coming at them. But what about the hero who performs the maneuver?

Check it out!

11 responses to “Dodging Missiles, Attracting Liability?

  1. Perhaps you’ve replied this before: at which height does someone moving under their own power (like a inhumanly skilled traceur (that is what parkour praticants are called), or a flying or high jumping super hero etc) starts trespassing on a property? Is it based on the altitude of the ground floor or the highest point of the building or the point directly bellow the individual or what? And how close do you need to get to an outside wall of a building in which the base touches the sidewalk, from the outside, to be trespassing? (in this last question i was thinking like for example, if Spiderman swings past a wall, very close but without actually making contact with the wall, is it any different in the eyes of the law than if he was clinging to it with his hands and feet?)

  2. Interesting that you refer to Superman in the post there, as I was thinking: what of all the damage done by Superman letting things bounce or explode against him? Bullets bounce off, but what or who do they hit, and what liability does he have when that happens?
    (Can’t remember if you’ve already covered that somwhere… couldn’t spot it in your Superman posts…)

    • I think this has been covered. If I recall correctly its something to the effect of the person doing the shooting being solely responsible for the damage or injuries caused. It amounts to the same thing as shooting at somebody and missing, only to hit a bystander instead.

      I mean functionally if nobody was shooting at Superman there would be no bullets to bounce off of him.

      • James Pollock

        I think it depends on whether or not it is reasonable for Superman to do anything about the ricochet bullets. In theory, he could be catching them and dropping them harmlessly to the ground, but is it reasonable to expect him to do so every time?
        Consider… person X is being shot at by Sniper. Person X runs into a crowd, hoping to lose himself and get away. Eventually, this tactic works… X survives and gets away unharmed. However, while trying to hit X, Sniper hits and injures Bystander, a member of the crowd. Bystander knows the actual identity of X, but not Sniper. Shouldn’t Bystander be permitted to sue X for damages, for putting him at risk of injury? (X, of course, can later sue Sniper for contribution, if and when Sniper is identified.)

      • It depends on just how Superman is deflecting the bullets. Obviously, if he intentionally changes the trajectory so that it hits a bystander, he is liable. If it just happens to due to random chance, possibly not.

  3. When dealing with guided missiles, there are a number of dogfighting approaches which may be applied.
    First, it may be possible to simply outrun the missile. A missile has a limited fuel supply and will eventually run out. Downside: Missiles are pretty fast, and are usually fired from in front of the target, so that the target must turn a 180 in order to even try this approach.
    Second, turning a circle tighter than the missile is capable of turning. This works because a missile usually has fairly limited control surfaces, trading maneuverability for speed. Downside: You have to let the missile get pretty close to attempt this, meaning the timing is particularly tricky.
    Third, distract the missile. This is where flares (for heat-seeking missiles) or chaff (for radar-guided missiles) fall in. Downside: limited effectiveness, limited area of effect, and limited supplies.
    Fourth, intercept the missile. This approach is not used much in air-to-air combat, but is used in point-defense, particularly for naval vessels. Downside: It takes a lot of ammo to shoot down a missile.
    Note that all of the above have the additional downside of possible collateral damage, as the missile may still explode when it lands on the ground.
    Note that superhero comics add a fifth possibility, that of actually capturing and redirecting the missile, which does not presently exist in military dogfighting and anti-missile doctrine. Superman is best known for this ; if I recall correctly three of the first four Superman movies involved Superman’s anti-missile capabilities to some degree or another (the fact that the one that doesn’t is considered the best of the lot is probably just a coincidence.) However, even Spider-Man frequently captures and redirects missiles to a safe(r) area for detonation (here, I’m thinking specifically of the goblin’s pumpkin bombs, although there are other examples.)

  4. Big difference in the Avengers movie though: Captain America told the police to get people to safety, to have them go through their basements and get to the subway. (Really? People can do that in New York? Cool.) Besides, if the Chitari were shooting missiles around in New York I think I would have had the presence of mind to escape my building through the subway anyway: it reduces Iron Man’s liability considerably if I know there is a danger and I don’t get out of the way. Finally, the Chitari were not just aiming at Iron Man: they appeared to be shooting missiles at random to kill civilians: I would never know, let alone be able to prove, that any given missile was aimed at Iron Man. (Oh yeah and, as somebody said already, any missile that would destroy Iron Man would probably also do a lot of damage to the building behind him anyway. It wouldn’t be a meaningful sacrifice.)

    One more thing, in the movie Hawkeye told Iron Man “[The Chitari] can’t bank worth a dime.” If Iron Man were to face liability, Hawkeye might face liability for suggesting the maneuver.

    • Well, I guess if I’m (fictional) Hawkeye’s (fictional) lawyer, I’d point out that “banking” and “turning” are not the same thing at all. Banking is rotation on the longitudinal axis, while turning is rotating on the vertical axis. Automobiles, for example, turn without banking, while motorcycles, on the other hand, almost always bank when they turn, especially at speed. Airplanes can turn without banking, but banking decreases the turning radius significantly.

  5. Sorry, gotta pick a nit here. In Ironman 2, Tony doesn’t lead those missiles (which are actually robot drones) into a building, but an outdoor sculpture. A latticework globe, in fact, with the continents made of sheet metal welded onto the surface. He flies into the globe, pauses in front of North America, then zips out just in time for the drones to crash into that spot. (why yes, I just played my copy of the movie to check my memory {g})

    Having refreshed my memory by replaying the scene, I have a separate, albeit related question. Since Hammer hired Vanko, and Vanko built the robots, to what extent is Hammer liable? True, he didn’t intend that to happen, but he did finance, supply, and fully support Vanko, who in fact caused his drones to fire on Iron Man in the crowded convention hall, then flew them through the glass roof, showering the crowd with broken glass. Not to mention later damage caused by their attacks on Iron Man.

    • If Vanko is Hammer’s employee (and I’m pretty sure he was) then I’d argue that Hammer is liable by vicariously for his employee’s actions.

      • That rather depends on whether Vanko was actually acting as Hammer’s employee at the time. If someone works 9-5 flipping burgers at McDonalds, then goes out and buys a gun with their first paycheck and goes on a shooting spree, McDonalds would not be held responsible. Even if the shooting spree was at the local Burger King.

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