1979, January 25: Robert Williams Killed by Robot
On January 25, 1979, Robert Williams, a worker at the Ford Motor Company in Flat Rock, Michigan, was accidentally struck in the head by the arm of an industrial robot and killed instantly. Williams was 25, with a wife and three children; and his family sued the manufacturers of the robot, Litton Industries, for a total of $15 million dollars... the court concluded that there simply were not enough safty measures in place to prevent such an accident happening.
In 1981, a Japanese factory worker named Kenji Urada was accidentally killed by an automotive robot. At the time Urada's death was announced in December 1981, Williams' death was still in litigation as his family battled with Litton Industries for benefits... so news angencies declared that Urada was the first man killed by a robot due to a general lack of knowledge about Williams' death. When litigation ended in 1983, and newspapers were better informed of the facts of the case, Robert Williams was given the distinction of being the first human killed by a robot, and Urada was essentially given second place.
Oh, and for those of you who are paranoid, be aware a single distinction further has yet to be claimed... the first person to be murdered by a robot, either by use or by its own motivation. Let's hope it doesn't happen anytime soon.