Technological Innovations, Uncertainty and the Law of Civil Liability




Purpose of the meeting


As in Montreal in 2012, at the Trento 2014 edition of the International Research Network on Technological Innovations, Uncertainty, and the Law of Civil Liability we will propose and discuss collaboratively interpretations and analysis, based on the individual scientific perspectives followed by each one of the partecipants, related to a fundamental issue at the intersection of law and technology: the inevitable transformation of the law of liability in response to the uncertainty associated with modern technological developments.

Our goal is to analyze the role that the law of liability plays, can play, and should play regulating ex post situations of uncertainty in the governance of modern technological risks, and providing for compensation in the event of their materialization. 


In all modern legal systems, unease exists about the law of liability’s apprehension towards technological risk. Legal systems approach this issue differently depending on their legal tradition and usus fori, resulting in differences and similarities between systems that help to enrich the analysis. However, the challenges facing the law of liability in situations of technological uncertainty rise above legal systems. The transformations of the law of liability to which we refer to are the result of, among other things, the emphasis on the uncertainty of risks in the legal debate. Theses changes have been made possible by law’s questioning of modern science (characterized by the interdependence of science and technology). As this questioning is obviously global, it is necessary to envision movements within the law of liability on a global scale.

We propose the formation of an international research group consisting of colleagues interested in the analysis of these questions. The long-term overall objective of this group will be the development of collaborative scientific projects between members of the group.


At the end of the Montreal meeting of July 2012, we had decided that the themes of the next meeting of the project would revolve around the question “what is scientific uncertainty?” This would constitute an invitation to colleagues to develop their own vision of what is meant by “scientific uncertainty”, considering the strategies deployed by legal systems when this notion comes into play in several fields of the law of civil liability.

In Montreal we had agreed that this broad question could be approached according to diverse methodologies: judicial, dogmatic, pragmatic, empirical, philosophical and scientific, as well as considering cognitive responses to uncertainty. Other suggestions to approach the idea of uncertainty within the seminar include, but are not limited to: the interplay between information keeping and processing (as in the case of automated technologies), scientific knowledge and the law of civil liability; judicial reasoning when confronted with scientific, epidemiological, and mathematical knowledge.

Nonetheless, we encourage participants to present any other ideas in which the notion of uncertainty comes into play when dealing with specific fields of application of the law of civil liability, as (for instance) in the case of earthquakes, nuclear disasters, and other catastrophic events in which technological and scientific knowledge developments may enable early precautionary responses patrolled by civil liability rules; or providing insights on how the genetic revolution in medicine is shaping the notion of uncertainty traditionally attached to therapies and diagnosis that combine medical acts, pharmaceutical products and other medical technologies.


Methodologically, as in Montreal, we will:


1) discuss the work of each member of the group, through a presentation with an appointed discussant, followed by a group discussion;


2) refine together the foundations for a collective scientific project that could eventually be presented to national or international agencies or within a next European Framework of Research Call;


3) identify the strategies for the best scientific valorization of the results of the seminar (publications, web site, etc.)


4) strengthen the research team by identifying other potential members for this project. 


Umberto Izzo and Matteo Ferrari (from the first call of the seminar, July 2013)