Autonomous Vehicle Liability: Who’s at Fault When Self-Driving Cars Are in Accidents?

Self-driving or autonomous vehicles offer the promise of better driver and passenger safety. Autonomous vehicle technologies may have the power to eliminate human error – the number one cause of car accidents. Working out the kinks while testing self-driving vehicles, however, has already led to many serious and even fatal auto accidents. According to car accident attorneys at Kanoski & Bresney understanding liability for an accident involving a driverless vehicle may take help from an attorney. A few different parties could owe compensation to victims after autonomous vehicle crashes.

The Car Company

The creator of the autonomous vehicle could be liable for an accident involving its car. Under the rules of product liability, a product manufacturer – including an automaker – may be liable for injuries involving defective products even without the victim having to prove fault. In other words, the manufacturer of the vehicle may be liable for an accident even if no proof of negligence or fault against the company exists. Several vehicle manufacturers have announced plans to make or have already debuted self-driving vehicles.

·      Audi

·      Bosch

·      General Motors

·      Google

·      Mercedes-Benz

·      Nissan

·      Tesla

·      Toyota

·      Uber

·      Volvo

Over 40 corporations are working on creating autonomous vehicles, including self-driving commercial trucks. The car company or manufacturer may be at-fault for a driverless vehicle crash if it reasonably should have done more to prevent the collision. If it did not properly test its sensors, for example, this could lead to company liability. If the vehicle contained a defect or flaw and this caused the accident, a victim would need no further proof of negligence to hold the manufacturer legally responsible in most states.

The Tech Manufacturer

Many pioneer companies in the autonomous vehicle industry rely on external technology creators for the tech necessary to operate their vehicles. If a separate manufacturing company created the tech that contained the defect that caused the accident, the tech company could be liable rather than the vehicle manufacturer.

This is similar to the liability issues involved in the recent Takata airbag catastrophe. The airbag manufacturer, Takata Corporation, is facing lawsuits for its exploding airbags. Takata, not necessarily the vehicle companies that used the airbags, may be liable for injuries and deaths related to the defective airbags. Differentiating between the automaker and the technology manufacturer in an autonomous vehicle lawsuit may take assistance from a law firm.

Comparative Negligence Defenses

The first death involving a driverless vehicle occurred in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. The victim was a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, whom the vehicle hit while travelling 38 miles per hour. The vehicle had a human operator but had been driving itself when it struck Herzberg. Herzberg stepped off a median and jaywalked across the road right before the accident. The courts did not find the company that created the self-driving vehicle, Uber, criminally liable for Herzberg’s death.

Uber and other self-driving vehicle companies may combat liability for accidents by using a comparative negligence defence. This defence claims the victim is partially or fully responsible for causing the collision. This defence may or may not bar a victim from recovery depending on the laws within the state. Even with proof of a victim’s comparative fault, the city or state where the crash occurred may suspend the self-driving vehicle temporarily, as authorities in Arizona did following Herzberg’s death.

The comparative negligence defence also occurred in a Florida man’s death behind the wheel of a Tesla that was operating on autopilot. Tesla’s sensors failed to pick up the side of a commercial truck in the sunlight, causing a fatal underride accident. While initially, critics blamed the accident on Tesla’s sensors, Tesla alleged comparative fault after recovering data from the vehicle that said it had warned the driver to regain control of the vehicle before the crash.

Hiring an attorney could help autonomous vehicle accident victims prove liability and combat defences such as comparative negligence.


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