Age of Ultron, Part I

(This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  You have been warned.)

In Avengers: Age of Ultron Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron, a brilliant but sociopathic artificial intelligence, which quickly obtains a physical form and wreaks havoc around the world.  Although the Avengers eventually succeed in destroying Ultron, questions remain: are Stark and Banner in any way liable for the damage caused by Ultron’s actions?  Could Ultron have been punished directly?  And was Ultron’s own destruction at the hand of the Avengers legal?  Today I’ll look at the first question.  I’ll address the other two questions in future posts.

Under current US tort law, Stark and Banner may be liable for Ultron’s actions.  First, they may be liable under an ordinary negligence analysis.  Second, they may be liable under a strict liability analysis.  Since Ultron’s creation and first harmful acts occurred in New York I will consider these questions from that perspective.  To be sure, Ultron went on to cause many other injuries in many other jurisdictions, but for the sake of brevity I will limit myself to what happened at Stark Tower.

I. Negligence

In New York, “a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and that the breach of such duty was a proximate cause of his or her injuries.” Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness, 92 A.D.3d 148, 159 (N.Y. App. Div. 2011).  In this case, Stark invited friends to his home (which I assume he owns), where they were injured.  He owed those present on his property a duty of reasonable care.  Tagle v. Jakob, 97 N.Y.2d 165, 166 (2001) (noting the abolition of the distinction between trespassers, licensees, and invitees).  He arguably breached that duty of care when he experimented with an ill-understood, incredibly powerful alien artifact.

(For this question I will focus on Stark rather than Stark and Banner because Stark’s duty of care is more easily established.  Banner could be liable as a joint tortfeasor of some kind, but I don’t want this post to get too complicated.)

Two questions remain in the analysis: first, did Stark take reasonable care to avoid injury?  And second, was his lack of reasonable care (if any) the proximate cause of the injuries?

“The objective, reasonable person standard in basic traditional negligence theory, however, necessarily takes into account the circumstances with which the actor was actually confronted when the accident occurred, including the reasonably perceivable risk and gravity of harm to others and any special relationship of dependency between the victim and the actor.” Bethel v. NYC Transit Authority, 92 N.Y.2d 348, 353 (1998).  In this case we can rule out special relationships and instead focus on the actual circumstances and reasonably perceived risk and gravity of harm.

The actual circumstances were that Stark conducted this experiment in his home with guests present, who were unaware of the experiment and who would, as Stark knew, disapprove of it and thus, at a minimum, have not been present had they known of its existence.  Further, Stark and Banner knew that there were significant risks in experimenting with the scepter, and a reasonable person would have perceived both those risks and the gravity of the potential harm because of the known injury that the scepter had caused in the past.

Given that the risk was high and the gravity of harm was high, did Stark take reasonable care to avoid injury?  I don’t think he did.  He concealed the experiment from his guests, instead drinking with them while the experiment proceeded, and that after 3 days of apparently uninterrupted work.  The only consolation is that he left the experiment attended by Jarvis, who is ordinarily a very capable assistant, but nonetheless as we saw he was unable to contain Ultron.  I believe someone taking ordinary care would not have left the experiment while it was in progress, would not have invited uninformed guests to the premises, and would not have consumed alcohol under those circumstances.

Finally, then, was Stark’s lack of care the foreseeable, proximate (i.e. legally responsible) cause of the injuries?  Or were Ultron’s own actions a superseding cause that broke the chain of responsibility?

A. Foreseeability

This is a difficult question.  Would a reasonable person foresee that experimenting with an alien artificial intelligence could result in malevolent robots attacking the guests at the party?  It’s possible, but this is quite possibly the weakest part of the argument for negligence liability.  Stark and Banner did not intentionally place the artificial intelligence in a robot body.  Ultron’s disembodied program caused the creation of a body and directed other Iron Legion robots to attack the guests.  The distance in causal steps makes it harder to argue that a reasonable person would have foreseen that risk.

B. Superseding Causes

“Where the acts of a third person intervene between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury, the causal connection is not automatically severed. In such a case, liability turns upon whether the intervening act is a normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created by the defendant’s negligence.” Derdiarian v. Felix Contracting Corp., 51 N.Y.2d 308, 314 (1980).

This in turn raises the question of whether Ultron was a third person for legal purposes.  As discussed in The Law of Superheroes, the law does not currently recognize machines as legal persons, and the existing legal framework suggests that only Congress can extend legal personhood to a non-human.  Absent such a law, Ultron would likely not be considered a person.

But if Ultron were considered a person, would his criminal, tortious actions sever liability for Stark?  “Where third-party criminal acts intervene between defendant’s negligence and plaintiff’s injuries, the causal connection may be severed, precluding liability.” Bell v. Board of Educ. City of N.Y., 90 N.Y.2d 944, 945 (1997).  However, if the criminal acts are a reasonably foreseeable result of circumstances created by the defendant, then liability is not severed.  Id.  In this case, if it was foreseeable that the experiment could create a malevolent robot, then that robot’s criminal actions are likewise a foreseeable result of circumstances created by the defendant, since the defendant’s actions literally created the robot and provided it with an immediate opportunity to cause injury.

Overall, the case for negligence is a little weak.  Foreseeability is a difficult argument to make because the circumstances are so extreme.  It’s helped somewhat by past experience with the scepter and the known lethality of Stark’s robots, but it’s still a bit of a stretch.  What about strict liability?

II. Strict Liability

Strict liability does away with questions of duty and reasonable care.  Instead, when strict liability applies, all that matters is causation and injury.  In New York “those who engage in activity of sufficiently high risk of harm to others, especially where there are reasonable even if more costly alternatives, should bear the cost of harm caused the innocent.” Doundoulakis v Town of Hempstead, 42 N.Y.2d 440, 448 (1977).  Thus, if experimenting with an alien artificial intelligence in a residence in Manhattan carries a “sufficiently high risk of harm to others” (i.e. is an “abnormally dangerous activity”), then Stark is liable for any resulting damage, even if he owed no duty of care and took extraordinary care.

There is no hard and fast rule for determining whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, but there are some commonly used factors: “(a) existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land or chattels of others; (b) likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great; (c) inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care; (d) extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage; (e) inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on; and (f) extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes”.  Id.

(a) Because of past experience with the scepter, this seems to be satisfied.  Banner in particular initially argued against the idea of experimenting with the AI.  And presumably Thor and the other Avengers would have been opposed.

(b) Again, past experience with the scepter, the skepticism of others, and the grievous harm that actually resulted suggests that the harm was likely to be great.

(c) The insidious, malicious nature of the AI suggests that reasonable care could not have eliminated the risk.  If two of the most brilliant scientists in the world, with essentially unlimited resources at their disposal, could not eliminate the risk, then it probably could not be eliminated.  Indeed, eliminating the risk (in the form of creating the Vision) ultimately required the employment of the power of a god (well, a godlike alien, but you get the idea).

(d) This kind of goes without saying.

(e) Again, this all happened in a residence while guests were present, some of whom did not have superpowers.  Seems like an inappropriate place to me.

(f) This is a bit of a sticking point.  Banner (and the other Avengers) would have argued that it wasn’t worth the risk.  Stark had an argument otherwise.  It’s a debatable point.  But at most I’d say it’s weakly arguable that it’s worth the risk.

All told I think there’s a good case for strict liability here.  Messing around with phenomenally powerful, ill-understood alien artifacts in a residential area for dubious reasons seems like a good example of an abnormally dangerous or ultrahazardous activity.  So probably don’t do that, unless you’ve got Stark money.

58 responses to “Age of Ultron, Part I

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, James! I was wondering if anyone would consider holding Tony liable for what Ultron did. Even more than that, I am giggling like crazy reading this right now, because I am right in the middle of doing a freelance job adding closed captions to a video, and the topic of the video is a review of criminal law for the bar exam. I just got past the part on strict liability when this showed up in my inbox! So not only am I learning a ton of stuff about criminal law just from watching the video, I can directly see how it applies to a movie that I absolutely loved, AND

    • Just to be clear, this post is about tort liability (i.e. civil liability) not criminal liability. Whether Tony committed any crimes by inadvertently creating Ultron is another issue. The negligence analysis is a little different in criminal law, and strict liability in criminal law usually comes up as a result of a specific statute. I don’t think New York has a criminal law on the books that would make Tony strictly liable for what he did.

  2. grr…wrong button press…

    AND answer some of the questions that the movie raised for me.

    On a different note, could Tony and/or Bruce be liable for Hulk’s rampage in Johannesburg, since Hulk was under the influence of Scarlet Witch, but Tony wasn’t? I know Tony was acting to save lives, but there was some massive collateral damage in that fight.

    Also, on a separate note, are you planning to revisit Agents of SHIELD for the second season? It seems like there have been a few more legal issues raised this season than were obviously apparent last season. For those who didn’t follow it, SPOILERS BELOW…

    There’s been a lot more talk of taking action against SHIELD, both from the U.S. Government and the United Nations, they’ve got a known fugitive (Ward) on the loose, Coulson has conspired WITH Ward to take down Hydra (in the episode right before Ultron released in theaters) and we’ve got what seems to be an entire city of people living below the radar, plus all the infighting between Coulson’s SHIELD and the “real SHIELD”.

    • SHIELD has kind of gone off the deep end, legally. Coulson’s team is pretty much in “because comics” territory, legally speaking. It’s a fun show, but it’s pretty much 100% suspension of disbelief for me these days.

      • “Off the deep end, legally?” I’m rather curious as to why you say that. Granted, I’m not an attorney and have never been to law school (hence the difference between tort law and criminal law that I apparently didn’t make the connection to).

        I know the stuff with the Inhumans and such is definitely “because comics”, but what about the stuff with Ward being a fugitive (and contributing to the death of a U.S. Senator)? Or the fallout from the world’s governments finding out that HYDRA infiltrated SHIELD and has been working in the shadows all this time? HYDRA was well known in the MCU as a threat, so surely there are some kind of legal ramifications there? Given that Natasha testified before the Senate, and Maria Hill mentioned that she was undergoing intense questioning near the end of season 1, surely there’s some sort of legal issues there?

        Plus you’ve got an Air Force General (Talbot) actively hunting Coulson and his team, at least in the beginning of the 2nd season. Last I was aware, the military wasn’t involved in civilian law enforcement, unless there was an action against the military itself, or military personnel were responsible for the crime (although I could be wrong about that, but when a civilian is arrested, you don’t usually find an Air Force General wielding the handcuffs and reading the Miranda rights). Or was this considered an act of terrorism? I think Talbot referred to them as terrorists once, but did we ever get an official declaration that SHIELD was a terrorist organization?

      • Martin Phipps

        My guess. SHIELD’s activities in the US were condoned by treaty and all that was required was an executive organisation from the President for SHIELD to be declared a terrorist organisation. The next question is whether or not the Avengers, by extension are considered terrorists, seeing as how the Avengers were working with SHIELD in the first movie. My guess is that individuals working within SHIELD, including the Avengers, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, etc. were excluded from being labelled as terrorists. Furthermore, I would argue that SHIELD has been rebranded as of the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron in that the New Avengers Facility that appeared at the end did not have the SHIELD logo and instead had the A for Avengers logo everywhere. The former SHIELD agents working at the facility are presumably Avengers support staff. The only question then is who is in charge of this new organisation. Nick Fury? Steve Rogers? Tony Stark? General Thunderbolt Ross? Well, that’s a question that will need to be addressed in Captain America: Civil War.

        Meanwhile, we have Coulson’s team consisting of himself, Skye, May, Fitz, Simmons, Bobbi, Hunter, Weaver, Oliver and the entire crew aboard an aircraft carrier plus, unofficially, the entire population of Afterlife. I haven’t watched the season finale of Agents of SHIELD but I am going to guess that Coulson and Jialing are going to agree to disagree regarding the outside world knowing about the Inhumans and that Coulson will, in exchange, be able to call for their assistance dealing with threats that Coulson’s SHIELD could not face alone. So while Nick Fury, Maria Hill and the Avengers are now completely free and clear of any accusation of terrorism (at least until May of next year) Coulson and all the people he works with are going to be considered terrorists for the foreseeable future and are going to have to operate, officially, on their own.

      • In addition to Gonzales’ CVN, we can add Helicarrier 64 from the movies to the list of available assets, although how often they’ll be able to put it to use is financially problematic.

    • Martin Phipps

      *executive decision

  3. ” Would a reasonable person foresee that experimenting with an alien artificial intelligence could result in malevolent robots attacking the guests at the party? It’s possible, but this is quite possibly the weakest part of the argument for negligence liability.”

    Depends on the context of the term “reasonable person”. A reasonable person in the Marvel Universe (where lab experiments have a tendency to go disastrously awry with frightening regularity) could very well forsee that playing with the scepter was a Seriously Bad Idea. Furthermore, the question is, could Tony Stark, world known technologist who has actually made numerous AIs and is well aware of what they are capable of reasonably forsee those results?

    I submit that Tony would have a higher duty of care because he knows better what the risks are. The problem is, he doesn’t care. (“We’re mad scientists…embrace it!”). Were I a prosecutor, I would seriously be looking at not simple negligence, but reckless endangerment issues.

    • I submit that Tony would have a higher duty of care because he knows better what the risks are.

      That goes to gross negligence, not simple negligence. Since gross negligence is a higher standard, if you can prove gross negligence you can prove simple negligence. I’m not sure even simple negligence is possible.

      Were I a prosecutor, I would seriously be looking at not simple negligence, but reckless endangerment issues.

      Again, and I apologize if this wasn’t clear in the post, this is about civil, tort liability not criminal liability.

      • Again, Mr Daily, how can a reasonable person in the MU not know that Bad Things happen when people screw around with Stuff They Don’t Understand in labs?

        It happens all the time. The Hulk. Sentinels that go “Skynet”. Wall-crawling teenagers. Guys who stretch, turn into fire, go invisible. and yes, Ultron.

        Simple negligence is, IMO, a given. Gross negligence should be easily provable.

    • It’s important to distinguish between the Marvel Universe (where things go wrong on a daily basis) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where such incidents are not quite as common (if only because it is still relatively small).

      In the MCU, lab incidents (especially ones known to the general public) are still fairly rare.

  4. Additional wrinkle: wasn’t Stark (at least a little bit) under the influence of Scarlet Witch when he created Ultron? He seems to have been planning something similar to Ultron for a while, but her influence might have made him just reckless enough to use the scepter against Banner’s advice. Could Stark have an involuntary intoxication defense, and if so, is Scarlet Witch now liable for damage caused by Ultron?

    (I’m not sure of the extent of SW’s powers, so it’s unclear to me whether Stark was still under the influence after he returned to his lab, or if he was free of the mind control and merely emotionally affected in a mundane way by the experience.)

    • Philo Pharynx

      Even if Stark gets off from involuntary intoxication, I think it’s stretching it too far to blame Scarlet Witch. She doesn’t appear to have much control over what her victims see. Most of the victims were simply non-responsive for a while.

      On the other hand, she would be responsible for Hulk’s Jo’berg rampage. A reasonable person would understand that messing with Banner’s mind is likely to cause a Hulk rampage.

      • The person the authorities should be after isn’t Stark or Banner, it’s Wanda. While she can probably slide out from under the hammer by claiming Hydra whammied her with the mind-controlling alien sceptre (technically true), the text of the film makes it seem she was a completely voluntary participant pursuing her own agenda.

        She hates Stark, remember? As a weaponised telepath working with a proscribed terrorist organisation, she used the powers awoken/given by Hydra to deliberately mess with his head with the express purpose of the destruction of the Avengers. Without her direct interference with his mental processes, I find it highly doubtful that a renowned futurist like Tony – who as pointed out would be familiar with machine intelligence both in reality and conjecture – would have been so reckless in his actions.

        (While I’m almost positive he’d still have tried adapting the architecture of the Mind Gem to his AI, I’m sure he would have done it in far more controlled circumstances given his Veronica protocols for containing the Hulk).

      • That’s a fair argument, but as others have pointed out, it isn’t clear that Wanda induced him to do anything in particular, just to try too hard. It’s also not clear to what extent Wanda’s influence was ineluctable or controlling and to what extent she just tipped the scales a little, no different than someone making a convincing argument. Legally speaking it was still Stark’s voluntary choice to do what he did.

        In any case, that still leaves Banner in the lurch, since Wanda hadn’t influenced him at that point. His cooperation with Stark was entirely voluntary.

      • And Banner DEFINITELY can found liable under a reasonable man standard, since his condition is a direct result of HE HIMSELF not exercising due care when futzing with things in labs.

      • Doesn’t the movie imply that Scarlet Witch deliberately intended to induce Stark to use the scepter, even if she didn’t foresee the creation of Ultron?

      • She saw what Tony saw and guessed that whatever he would do would be more damaging than what she could do to him. I don’t think she intended him to do anything specifically.

      • Philo Pharynx

        Exactly. She saw Stark worrying about losing his friends and eager to do something, but nothing in the vision implied any specific action.

        On the other hand, we didn’t see Banner or Hulk’s vision, but I’ll lay odds that it specifically involved smashing stuff up.

      • I would dearly love to read the POV of South African lawyer/nerds on this one.

  5. Michael Aaron Blank

    Considering the fact that programmers routinely leave computer programs to compile without attention and the fact that he essentially left it in the care of, arguably, the most capable guard against another artificial intelligence on the planet, I think the right experts could argue that the outcome was an unforeseeable circumstance.

  6. On the point of foreseeability – it wasn’t initially apparent to anyone that the scepter contained anything remotely sentient, which one wouldn’t actually tend to think of even in the MCU. For the AI to go from so dormant nobody knew it was there to acting on its own in eliminating its oversight, creating a body and a ton of slaves, and taking off to acquire more macguffins is probably something that would be considered ‘unexpected’, especially as Tony’s AIs have all not turned out to be megalomaniacal prior to this point.

    • Well, the AI architecture was derived from a mind control device utilised as part of a distinctly hostile alien military invasion. Someone not under compulsion to bring about an apocalypse would have factored that into containment scenarios and at the very least used mounted the examination using an easily burnable closed system rather than an openly networked one.

      • Until this movie and Tony looking into it, who knew the mind control was due to the gem and not Loki?

  7. Great overview of the issues in Age of Ultron so far! I definitely agree with your assessment here that Stark and Banner still have responsibility for Ultron’s actions here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Is it too much to hope that a future post will discuss Vision? He’s a machine whose materials of construction were obtained through questionable means, created by an experimental process, which was done under the influence of mind control, all according to the demands of a machine. Who owns him?

    • Not too much to hope. I can take a crack at it here. There’s the legal answer: most of the raw materials were owned by Dr. Cho’s lab, plus the mind stone, the ownership of which is…complicated. The instruction and programming were supplied–extremely indirectly–by Stark, but Stark can’t claim an ownership interest without claiming that he was responsible for Ultron, in which case he would also be claiming responsibility for multiple crimes, which would in turn likely nullify any property interest he had. So I think we can reduce the ownership to Dr. Cho’s lab and whoever owns the mind stone (Asgard, with Thor as its agent, if you believe Asgardians are legal people, and otherwise either Stark, since he was the last human to have possession of it, or some earthly government, since the scepter was involved in a crime.).

      I think, however, that it doesn’t really make sense to talk about the Vision as owned property, since no one can realistically exercise control over him. Thus, it probably makes more sense to think of him as abandoned property rather than owned property. Both Dr. Cho’s lab and whoever owns the mind stone seem to have relinquished any claim to it. I suppose this means that anyone who wanted could take the Vision as their own property, but good luck with that!

      • Ken Arromdee

        Stark can’t claim an ownership interest without claiming that he was responsible for Ultron, in which case he would also be claiming responsibility for multiple crimes, which would in turn likely nullify any property interest he had.

        If Stark was able to successfully use the argument that he is not responsible for the crimes because he was influenced by Scarlet Witch, would he then be able to claim ownership?

      • Probably, but I think that’s a difficult argument to make. The vision she showed him didn’t seem to rise to the level of outright mind control (thus no mens rea) or even involuntary intoxication. As best I could tell, she forced him to see the vision once, and after that he made his own decisions, influenced only by the memory of it. He was already interested in the idea of Ultron (he and Banner had talked about it before), and he was already willing to take brash risks. I think at most she put a thumb on the scales.

      • What about the vibranium that was used to create the Vision’s body? That didn’t come from Cho. IIRC, Ultron stole it from Ulysses Klaue, who in turn presumably stole it from the Wakandans.

  9. James Pollock

    It may be that this is coming, but all of the analysis in this outing rests on an unstated assumption… that Ultron is a “thing” and not a “person”.

    I think there are two questions that have to be resolved before you can get to the analysis presented here: Is Ultron a “person” under the law, and if he is a person, is he an adult person.

    If he is an adult person, then the analysis is very different… Ultron is responsible for Ultron’s actions, and creating him is more similar to the act of creating a person, and the precedent is fairly clear that parents are not legally responsible for the criminal or civil acts of their adult children.

    If he is a person, but not an adult, then the analysis isn’t a straightforward negligence calculation, but rather, more like one of negligent supervision of a child (made complicated because most people have an understanding of what proper diligence in supervising a human child looks like, but not many have an idea of proper supervision of the creation of an artificial intelligence requires.

    Only if the determination is first made that Ultron is not a person can you proceed along the track of inquiry described here. Granted, courts have been reluctant, to say the least, to extend “personhood” beyond the human kind (sorry, cetaceans, you got the Dred Scot treatment.) but the BCU has seen multiple arguably nonhuman “persons” and seems likely to get over that particular hurdle. (Science fiction has been wrestling with this sort of question for rather a long time, Heinlein even framed it as a legal struggle in “Jerry Was a Man”.)

    • It’s coming. Question 2 is “Could Ultron have been punished directly?”, and that will deal with legal personhood and what it would even mean to punish/rehabilitate/incarcerate an artificial intelligence.

      • James Pollock

        Presumably, we can get around the eighth amendment issue for originalists, since ANY punishment for an AI would be “unusual” to the members of the 1st Congress.

    • Normally, parents aren’t responsible for the bad things their adult children do, but normally it isn’t possible for parents to do things that affect the adult child’s decisions as drastically as creating a psychopathic AI. I’d think that if you’re going to compare creating Ultron to creating an adult, it would be some kind of extreme situation where the parents can have drastic influence. If you raise a child to believe that all banks are the work of the devil and he is morally obliged to rob one, and you exerted such total control over the child’s life that the child ended up actually believing it, and then the child turned 18 and went out to rob a bank, would you really not be liable?

      • Philo Pharynx

        Yes, but you can argue that Ultron’s mind was more the product of the Infinity Stone than of Stark’s programming. Stark’s other AI’s have been non-homicidal.

  10. James Pollock

    “normally it isn’t possible for parents to do things that affect the adult child’s decisions as drastically as creating a psychopathic AI”

    Parents create psychopaths with amazing regularity throughout human history. The popular discussion question remains “if you could make a time machine, would you go back and shoot Hitler”, not “if you could make a time machine, would you go back and shoot Hitler’s mom.” (Skynet apparently learned it differently, because it does go after mom.)

    If psychopathy has a genetic component, this would be even more complex.

    • Parents can have psychopathic children, but they generally can’t do so negligently or deliberately, so they’re not responsible for it (except in the sense that if they don’t have children at all they can’t have psychopathic children).

      • James Pollock

        “Parents can have psychopathic children, but they generally can’t do so negligently or deliberately”

        Right. So… when you create a child, there’s a risk he’ll turn out to be a psychopath (appears to be sex-linked, as psychopaths are much more likely to be male than female). However, once that child is an adult, that’s where the blame for the child’s actions is legally placed.
        So… IF Ultron is a “person” under the law, is he an “adult” person? If so, his “parents” should be off the hook. If he’s a “person” but not an “adult”, then you have a case of negligent supervision.

      • Could he even be considered an adult? After all, the movie took place over, what? The course of a week maybe? And Ultron was only alive for maybe five days of that. Despite the fact that he had all the computer intelligence programmed into him, he doesn’t have the “life” experience of an adult, and comes across as very juvenile.

      • Date of birth isn’t the deciding factor here, surely? There’s already a system in place for trying minors as adults, and I think the severity of Ultron’s crimes would merit that.

      • Even when minors are tried as adults, or if they’re incarcerated as juveniles, there’s still an age limit as to how old a child has to be before they can be legally prosecuted and convicted. If we’re using New York’s laws and statutes, a child has to be at least 7 years old to even be prosecuted, but can’t be tried as an adult until they’re 16. The only exception is that juveniles who commit serious and violent offenses – murder, rape, etc. can be tried as adults as young as 14.

        Ultron may have all the knowledge he absorbed from Tony’s databanks, but he doesn’t have the “life experience” to properly know how to apply it. Think about the way he instantly apologized after he cut off Klaw’s hand in South Africa. He basically just reacted, then realized he’d done something wrong. Those are the behaviors of a child, not an adult with a full understanding of right and wrong.

      • Philo Pharynx

        Can you even compare Ultron’s development to human development? He has some skills beyond human measure and in other ways is undeveloped. Can that be tied to experience? In the comics, Ultron retains many childish qualities even after years of experience.

      • Ken Arromdee

        James: The issue is that parents can do things which carry over to the child’s adulthood. Consider my example of a parent who raises a kid to believe that bank robbery is a moral requirement and the kid robs a bank instantly upon turning 18. You wouldn’t say that the kid fails to qualify for being an adult because he hasn’t yet managed to shake off the effect of his childhood.

        Are the parents at fault there, despite the child being an adult? If so, then Ultron’s “parent” can be held responsible too even if Ultron counts as an adult.

        And this scenario is a lot closer to Ultron than the psychopathic child, even if that seems superficially closer, because the psychopathic child is not created negligently, Ultron *was* (at least arguably) created negligently, and the child raised to believe in robbing banks was created negligently or maliciously.

      • James Pollock

        “James: The issue is that parents can do things which carry over to the child’s adulthood.”
        True enough. Moral guilt and legal guilt are not the same thing, however.

        “Consider my example of a parent who raises a kid to believe that bank robbery is a moral requirement and the kid robs a bank instantly upon turning 18. You wouldn’t say that the kid fails to qualify for being an adult because he hasn’t yet managed to shake off the effect of his childhood.”
        No, I wouldn’t. The child is an adult, responsible for his own actions, no matter HOW long it takes him to throw off the lingering effects of his childhood. Some people NEVER recover from their experiences as children. Nevertheless, we hold the adult child responsible for his actions, even if they stem from problems in their childhoods.

        “Are the parents at fault there, despite the child being an adult?”
        I believe, but have done no research to confirm, that the legal answer is “no”.

  11. Morgan Champion

    Though if using Skynet and Ultron as examples, psychopathy probably doesn’t have a genetic component.

    • James Pollock

      Bad hearts have a genetic component. Did that affect the Jarvik-7? Or whatever that thing Dick Cheney has?

      Bad vision can have a genetic component. And Hubble… got LASIK or something.

  12. The Dork Nite

    Is Stark Tower actually considered a home for the purposes of all this? Its clear he runs a lab the government knows about and pays him to use for research there, he has employees (He is paying Banner i assume as he gave him a job offer in the last movie), etc.

    Which part is home and which is business? With Tony it is a very thin line, blurred all to heck to boot, but the room they were in did not appear to be much more than a glorified reception hall or conference room for public displays, and in fact is right off the landing pad if I recall. Would that change things at all (in the legal issues sense) if it was a business area rather than a domestic one?

    • James Pollock

      You know who’d know the answer to this? Stark’s tax attorney. Pull Stark’s returns and see what he’s claiming for “home office” deduction.

      • Well, it went from “Stark Tower” in the first Avengers movie, with a clearly delineated living space/penthouse suite for he and Pepper, to what we saw in this movie, which did seem more like a general gathering place. However, we don’t know that Tony and Pepper aren’t living there, and if you look closely at the very end of Avengers 1, before the credit scroll begins, you can see the new blueprints that Tony and Pepper are looking at have living quarters for all of the Avengers assigned. It could be a combination home and business.

        Given that, would Tony have any liability as a landlord? Cap indicated that he, at least, was living in the Tower, since he was talking to Falcon about moving to Brooklyn. And I can presume that Bruce was living there too. Clint’s a little harder to pin down, since we now know that he has a farm, wife, and kids. Thor’s technical home is Asgard, but he might have only been staying with the Avengers in order to launch the assault on Strucker’s base. It seemed that he returned to Earth to live with Jane Foster, wherever she is at these days. Natasha is the only other questionable one in regards to her place of residence.

      • James Pollock

        There could be living quarters incidental to other purpose. The way firemen live in the firehouse when they are on shift, then go home to their “real” homes. Any number of businesses have people who live on the business premises for the benefit of the company (there’s a couple of days in income tax class about whether providing living quarters is a taxable event to the employee).

        If we’re poking around with liability, though, my question would be… what the heck is Banner doing living in NYC? Does this not seem like a bad idea to anybody?

  13. Pingback: Age of Ultron, Part 2 | Law and the Multiverse

  14. Otho Fernandes Damasceno

    Or better yet, don’t do that EVEN if you do have Stark’s money. Given all the property damage that happens on this movie, it’s safe to say even a multi-billionaire like Tony Stark is probably going to receive a few dents on his wallet.

  15. Betting that Banner was the first one to raise objections to the idea of his maintaining residence in NYC at the Tower, and Tony talked him down from those. And Tony would have had his reasoning solidly marshalled. Fury would’ve kept federal concerns to a minimum, and the Avengers’ status as “heroes of the Battle of NYC” would have been a defence against any concerns expressed by either NYC City Hall or the state government in Albany.

  16. Great post and discussions.
    Two things:
    The film left me believing that Stark shut down his experiment before the party. To the surprise of Jarvis (and the viewer) the equipment turned itself back on.
    Am I misremembering?
    If I’m right it seems to change a lot.
    Secondly, IIRC, Stark had some kind of permission to experiment on the sceptre for a few days before handing it over to… whomever.

  17. It occurs to me, is Tony’s lab actually part of his residence? Is Avengers Tower a residential or commercial building? I assume they have people working on some of those other floors. In a case where someone owns a shop of some kind, and they live in an apartment on the floor above the shop, would something that happened in the place of business while people had been invited over to the residence still count as occuring in the residence?

  18. A bit late, but there is a point this article overlooks / is unaware of- though the movie barely addresses it, the Ultron AI programme is not wholly Starks’ invention. He harvested it a Chitauri ship, the aliens from the first film.

    So as far as the “is Ultron a person?” arguments go, this is more like Tony found an unconscious adult serial killer who, later, woke up with a new personality or set of priorities and went on a killing spree, though influenced by what he learnt in Starks’ home and treating Stark as his sort-of father (amnesia, perhaps?).

    Though this would probably just double the negligence on his part, of course- Tony is not just messing with ONE dangerous device (the Sceptre), he is messing with TWO (the Sceptre, AND the alien artificial intelligence). I do wonder also how much authority he has to possesses either of these- wouldn’t the military or the government have the legal right to it?

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