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Who Is Responsible When a Self-Driving Car Has an Accident?

The Problem

As new self-driving technologies develop, offering consumers self-driving cars, trains, buses, and drones, what are the liability issues when an accident occurs with an autonomous vehicle?  The chief question to answer is who will be responsible for the accident? Is it …

  • the manufacturer of the self-driving car;
  • the person riding in the self-driving car; or
  • the driver of the traditional vehicle?

The sense of urgency to find clear answers to these and other self-driving vehicle questions is increasing. Driverless vehicles could save lives but we need to sort out liability questions. If you are involved in an accident with an autonomous vehicle, it is crucial to contact a lawyer.  Call Corless Barfield Trial Group today toll-free at (877) 517-5595 or locally at 813-258-4998.

In 2016, the Florida legislature made Florida the first state in the nation to legalize the driving of fully automated or self-driving vehicles on public roads without requiring a person behind the driver’s wheel. Unfortunately, Florida was also the first state to have a fatal accident caused by a self-driving vehicle (Tesla) that smashed into a semi-truck.

The 2016 Florida crash drew widespread attention for being the first known fatal accident involving a vehicle operating on its own.  A 538-page report from the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the Tesla had apparently been warning  its driver to disengage the autopilot mode and take control of the vehicle.

Automakers such as Tesla, Volvo, General Motors, Toyota, Lexus, Ford, and technology companies like as Google, Apple, and Intel have all begun developing self-driving cars. Crashes and injuries were a certainty as driverless vehicles moved from experiment to reality.

The Law

 Car accident litigation generally turns on whether a driver acted negligently, or failed to exercise a reasonable level of care.  A lawsuit involving an autonomous vehicle could revolve around whether the self-driving system had a design defect.  Design defect claims do not require a finding of fault or negligence. Rather, to prevail, a plaintiff must show only that a product had an inherent design defect that would render it unsafe.

Automakers and software writers could counter with data gathered by on-board sensors on how cars behaved during a collision to show that it was impossible for the vehicle to avoid a collision and that all the systems functioned properly, as was the case with the Florida Tesla crash.

The Solution

 In general, human beings cannot delegate driving responsibility to their cars. In self-driving cars, a human must be ready to override the system and take control. However, multiple defendants in autonomous vehicle accidents are possible: the automobile manufacturer; the company that wrote the car’s software; and perhaps the fleet owner, if the car is part of a commercial service, such as Uber. As the technology becomes more mainstream, we can likely expect insurance companies and manufacturers to push back against regulations. 

Contact Corless Barfield Trial Group today at  (877) 517-5595 or 813-258-4998 to discuss your claim and schedule a free consultation. We can evaluate the impact of negligence and product liability as it relates to your self-driving car accident. We will detail how victims may be compensated for their injuries in an autonomous vehicle crash.