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I am developing software for a company and I own the rights to the software. They plan on using the software on a physical device that has the potential to directly harm humans. I have never seen what they are doing they simply ask for things to be done and I charge a rate to do them on top of a maintenance fee. From a legal stand point I think that I should sell them the software and not be making changes without seeing the real world product first hand. What do you think? Should I sell the software and charge a fee if they need my help? I want there to be a cash transaction if I sell the software to indicate they have ownership. I think that this would be a much better way to go about business.

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    Does "the potential to directly harm humans" imply that it might be illegal or merely that there might be liability issues? Or is the problem ethical?
    – morsor
    Dec 6, 2023 at 10:25
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    Do you really need to have the cash transaction? Sometimes, it is best to simply give them the source code and operate on a "work for hire" basis as that puts the liability on them.
    – David R
    Dec 6, 2023 at 15:32
  • The software is going on to a vacuum system that is in close proximity to humans. I am worried that if a sensor becomes loose or is not adjusted correctly then the operator could be sucked into the vacuum system Dec 6, 2023 at 23:08
  • The reason I am keeping the software is I was planning to offer a packaged control system since I was the one who developed this without any investment from them. They are paying to use this so they do not need to hire anyone Dec 6, 2023 at 23:11
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    If you plan on offering a packaged control system, then you need to talk to a lawyer about your liability exposure and get appropriate insurance. That liability is far more than standard E&O liability that a software consultant has. Once I was asked if I was carrying 1M$ in E&O insurance just for offering software services as "work for hire."
    – David R
    Dec 8, 2023 at 16:04

2 Answers 2

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What do you think?

You should definitely get professional liability insurance if you do not already have it. It is not cheap, but neither is compensating the family members of a person who has been "sucked into the vacuum system."

Your initial and ongoing liabilities are going to be influenced by whatever written terms you and your client establish for the initial work and ongoing maintenance. Speak with a lawyer for guidance on what your options are and how to draft the contracts accordingly.

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From a strict liability standpoint, and assuming you have a contract in place that specifies your responsibility is only on developing the software, and you aren't responsible for how that software is implemented, you aren't liable for misuse of the software. However, depending on the terms in the contract, and the fact that (based on your statement) you own the software, not the client who is implementing it, you could potentially face some amount of liability for injuries. This is a situation where you should have an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction review the agreement you have with the client and make sure that your contract protects you.

From a real-world standpoint, just because you aren't liable doesn't mean you can't still be accused by an injured party or even sued. Liability insurance is critical here, and in any situation where you could face legal ramifications, even if you aren't strictly liable. As for the cost of liability insurance, the other response isn't necessarily true. I have liability insurance that costs less than $20/month, but my work only involves finances, not life-or-death situations. I don't know how much it would be in your situation, but it may not be as expensive as you think.

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