Smart homes, smart cars, smart you

Americans now shop online about as often as they take out the trash, according to a recent Washington Post article.1 And nearly half of us prefer to purchase goods on the web—from groceries to prescription refills to runway-ready party dresses.

To many of us, online shopping is a no-brainer. Why would I get out and fight the crowds when I can snuggle down into my sofa and shop by a toasty fire? Then a few days later, my package arrives at my door. From the standpoint of ease and effort, it can’t be beat.

The problem is, online shopping is a pretty nice thing for industrious thieves, too. In fact, more than half of Americans say they know someone who’s had a package stolen from outside their home, and 30% say they’ve experienced it themselves, says an article in USA Today.2

That’s what Amazon Key, a new internet-connected secure delivery service from Amazon, is hoping to solve for. It uses a keypad, a camera, and a one-time-use code to let delivery people digitally unlock your front door and leave packages inside, all while you’re able to monitor their actions in real-time from your phone.

While the idea that my packages could be placed safely inside my door is intriguing, the claims specialist in me can’t help but ask “what if.” What if the technology fails? What if a thief is able to hack the keypad and freeze the system to gain full access to the home?

The acceleration of technology is happening in the home (smart homes), on the road (driverless cars), in the skies (drones) and now on your doorstep with Amazon Key. Wherever we rely on technology to simplify or streamline an aspect of our lives, there can be the possibility of a technology fail. And that leads to the million dollar question of who’s responsible—and who’s legally liable—when there’s harm or damage because of it.


Trust the technology?


While smart package delivery is the latest newsworthy tech development leaving me considering liability implications, it’s far from the only area where questions on responsibility and technology come into play. These days, individuals can now use “smart home” technology to adjust their lights, see who is ringing their doorbell, set alarms while away and take many other seemingly safe measures. While these technologies can offer increased protection, there is the issue of what happens when the technology doesn’t work as planned and a loss occurs.

It’s not unlike the issues we’re beginning to see with technology-assisted cars. One of the questions is, if you take your hands off the wheel and there’s an accident, is it your fault or the car’s? And is it you or the car manufacturer—or both—who’s more likely to get sued?

We’ve already seen these same kinds of discussions emerge over home water shutoff sensors—internet-connected systems that can turn off water when you’re away if they detect a leak. When these kinds of devices fail and water damages a neighboring condo, for example, it opens a Pandora’s box of liability questions.

The courts are just beginning to explore these kinds of issues—what’s your responsibility as the owner or operator of the smart device, and what’s the manufacturer’s or provider’s responsibility as the entity that created and deployed it. The newness of this discussion, and the undefined legal grey areas of accountability, is already making defenses more complex, and surfacing new questions of liability across our entire industry. And as many implications as we now can think of with smart technology, there are surely even more that will continue to surface as these features continue to advance.

At Berkley One, we know this is a complex situation to navigate. But we’re not shying away. We’re looking at all of the new ways an insured’s assets may become exposed—and what to do about it. This is a time of transition, where there are new choices and more options to consider than ever before. We believe it’s our job to help our clients navigate these new integrated systems.

So, what should you do as an individual? Should you wait until the startups and Amazons of the world work all kinks out of all their new smart technology? My advice to friends, family and clients is to be cautiously adoptive. Be aware of the risks if you decide to be an early user of home access or driver-assisted technologies. Talk to your agent and insurance provider about actions you can take to help make your property more secure if you decide to wade in—and then take them. While new integrated devices offer promising benefits, the steps you take to help keep your home, car, and other valuables safe can’t be passed to a new device—at least not yet.


Marylou Rodden is Vice President of Casualty Claims at Berkley One.