Who Is Liable in Self-Driving Accidents?

Categories: Car Accidents

Who Is Liable in Self-Driving Accidents?

Self-driving vehicles may have once brought to mind a futuristic setting straight out of a science-fiction movie, but the future has arrived. 

American auto and rideshare companies are test-driving more of these cars than ever before. In June 2019, companies tested more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles on the road. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), self-driving vehicles in California drove a combined 2.9 million miles during the last reporting period.  

Self-driving cars also go by many other names, including: 

  • automated vehicles
  • autonomous vehicles
  • automated driving systems (ADS)

Self-Driving Accidents

The increasing number of autonomous cars brings with it a new type of car accidents: self-driving car accidents. 

As self-driving vehicles continue to multiply on roads in the U.S., common car accident injuries and even fatalities are now becoming associated with the new technology. 

According to an NBC news report, a jaywalking woman died in Tempe, Arizona, after a self-driving Uber struck and killed her.

The ridesharing vehicle’s sensors didn’t recognize the woman as a pedestrian, as she wasn’t walking on or near a designated crosswalk. Therefore, the car’s technology couldn’t predict the appropriate time needed to brake. Neither did the car’s built-in safety system alert the test driver, who tried to stop the vehicle far too late.

Another man died in Florida in 2019 after his self-driving Tesla hit a tractor-trailer while on autopilot mode.

While self-driving cars can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with human error, their automated technology isn’t 100% flawless. According to the same NBC news report, Uber reported 37 crashes involving self-driving vehicles between the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2018.

As reports of these incidents grow, more Americans seem uneasy about autonomous vehicles. According to the 2020 Global Automotive Consumer Study, 48% of respondents believe that fully automated cars will not drive safely.

However, a study on self-driving vehicular incidents in California found that the vast majority of self-driving car accidents occurred due to human error rather than the self-driving vehicle in question. 

Liability of Self-Driving vs. Manned Vehicles

These self-driving vehicular incidents also raise the thorny issue of liability. If a person sits in a self-driving vehicle and the car crashes, who remains legally at fault? The driver? The car manufacturer? The ridesharing company?

In the Tempe case, prosecutors held the vehicle’s safety driver liable for criminal negligence, meaning that the driver’s reckless actions contributed to the accident. 

The prosecutors declined to prosecute the ridesharing company, determining that Uber was not criminally liable. Instead, Uber provided a settlement to the victim’s family during a civil lawsuit.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s accident review, on the other hand, held many parties liable, including Uber executives, for developing an “inadequate safety culture.” 

In typical car accidents involving two manned vehicles, it’s much easier to determine liability. State law deems Florida to be a no-fault state for insurance purposes. 

That means both drivers must have personal injury protection insurance and submit claims to their respective insurance companies, regardless of who caused the accident. Only in certain circumstances can you go beyond Florida no-fault laws to file a direct claim against the at-fault driver. 

But in self-driving accidents, you must deal with the driver(s) or pedestrian(s), as well as the technology and manufacturing companies involved.

How Do Multiple Parties Affect Liability?

Many state auto laws do not account for the possibility of autonomous vehicles. Therefore, determining fault in self-driving accidents must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The involvement of multiple parties, from the driver to the manufacturer, also makes litigating these cases more complicated.

Overall, three primary parties can be held criminally liable for self-driving accidents.

The Driver(s)

Human error still proves to be the overriding cause of most self-driving car accidents. After all, the driver must provide backup in case the autopilot miscalculates or malfunctions. If the driver falls asleep at the wheel or gets distracted, they may be liable.

Likewise, the driver of another vehicle could be at fault; the car’s autopilot system may not be able to avoid all collisions caused by other parties. 

The Manufacturer

After the driver(s), the manufacturer becomes the most likely party to be held liable. Their vehicles may malfunction due to faulty auto-pilot design, defective parts, or inadequate technology.

Prosecutors can also hold the car manufacturer at fault if they provide misleading advertising, which could lead drivers to falsely believe they can completely take their eyes off the road and watch TV.

As of now, self-driving vehicles still require a licensed human driver, often leaving the driver at fault in these accidents.

If automated cars advance to the point where they can fully operate without human drivers, we could likely shift more liability for accidents onto the manufacturers designing this technology.

The Government

Laws regulating self-driving vehicles are still very new, opening up the government to potential liability. For example, laws might permit self-driving vehicles to operate in unsafe areas, exposing pedestrians and other drivers to potential injury.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have been injured in a car accident involving a self-driving vehicle in Palm Beach County, the first thing you should do is file a Florida accident report with the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

The second thing you should do is contact one of our personal injury lawyers to Demand More® for your injuries. It’s best to seek an experienced attorney’s guidance when dealing with complex matters involving personal injury or criminal negligence in traffic accidents. With the help of a knowledgeable legal professional, you may be entitled to compensation.

We’ve shown how easily this new form of self-driving technology can complicate legal matters. Our team at Brian D. Guralnick Injury Lawyers can tackle many complex legal cases, including self-driving accidents. We use our legal resources to research these accidents and determine if there is a case worth pursuing. 

Reach out today, and we can arrange the next steps to review your legal claim.

Who Should I Contact After a Self-Driving Accident?

If you have been injured in a Palm Beach County self-driving accident, I encourage you to contact me, Brian D. Guralnick, personally to discuss your legal rights. To learn how the injury team at Brian D. Guralnick Injury Lawyers can help you Demand More® for your injuries, call (561) 983-4395 now.

Disclaimer: You should not take any information in this blog as legal advice in any situation. If you need expertise regarding a specific issue, contact a qualified personal injury attorney.