• Who is Held Accountable in a Fatal Accident Involving a Self-driving Car?

    wrongful deathThe idea of self-driving cars is one that we have lived with for decades, but it’s only been the past few years that the dream has come closer to being a reality. For those of us old enough to remember the Jetson’s, the concept never raised the notion of accidents or people being harmed, but now that autonomous cars are being tested on America’s roadways, liability has become a real question – and especially since a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Tempe. This incident and others like it have raised all kinds of legal questions. Most notably, people want to know who is held accountable in a fatal accident involving a self-driving car. Will wrongful death claims still be applicable? The answer is not yet clear.

    In the case in Arizona, the police report indicates that it was the pedestrian who was at fault: the woman stepped out of the shadows from a median into the path of the car, so it is uncertain that wrongful death liability would have been an issue had the accident involve a human driver. Still, because self-driving cars involve a machine operating a vehicle, there is a question as to whether accidents will be considered the fault of the product manufacturer, the software designers, or the human operators who are supposed to provide safety oversight. There is even talk of pursuing a liability claim against a state government for permitting testing of unproven vehicles on its roads, and some discussion of laws that will require that autonomous vehicle collisions, injuries or wrongful death claims be resolved through arbitration. This is a new area of law, and there will need to be case law established before we have certainty as to how future cases will be decided.

    Though fatal accidents involving self-driving cars will still come down to a question of negligence, there is e growing sense that most of the blame will be placed on the vehicle’s manufacturer, and that lawsuits will revolve around product liability in the same way that tire failure and airbag failure cases are pursued. The claims are likely to charge companies with designing, manufacturing and marketing products that do not do what they promise. Finding the driver negligent would likely be more difficult unless their behaviors are egregiously careless, as the notion behind self-driving cars is that they are supposed to make the decisions.

    As the world changes, the laws will change with them. If you have been hurt in an accident and need representation by a personal injury attorney, contact our office today to learn more.

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