Some of the ag data platforms on the market today have very sophisticated predictive weather forecasting tools. Dicamba drift issues are a big concern this summer, making me wonder how willing farmers will be to trust the recommendations from their ag data platforms on when it is OK to spray. An even better question is: what happens if the platform's recommendation gets it wrong, resulting in Dicamba drift and nearby crop damage?
If a nearby crop owner experiences crop loss due to Dicamba drift, that farmer will be looking to recover their losses from the responsible party. The applicator and the ag tech platform that recommended spraying could be liable.
The applicator could be liable as a negligent actor. I think most people understand that.
But the ag tech platform could also be liable if its recommendation to spray was negligent. The law generally imposes a reasonable person standard of care on advisors. To determine if someone breached their duty of care, the law will look at what a reasonable, similarly situated person would have done.
Thus, if an ag data platform recommends spraying a crop with Dicamba, and a nearby specialty crop is damaged or destroyed as a result, a court would inquire whether persons in a similar role, such as other crop advisors, would have also recommended that spraying was OK under those conditions. If not, a jury could determine the ag data platform provider breached its duty of care.
Yes, a computer program can be negligent (and the liability is borne by the provider).
Some ag data platforms will disclaim negligence in their contracts to avoid this problem. Typically this will appear as a disclaimer which states that the ag tech provider is not liable for damage caused as a result of using its software. Other contracts may even include indemnity for the tech provider, meaning that if the provider is sued because it recommended its user spray Dicamba, the user must defend the provider in court.
Farmers who rely on technology to make recommendations for when to spray should ask their platform providers who is responsible if something goes wrong when using the software's advice. Even more importantly, farmers should familiarize themselves with the fine print in these agreements.