Self-Driving Vehicle Accidents: What are Your Rights?

Self-Driving Vehicle Accidents: What are Your Rights?

Earlier this year, news of an Uber self-driving car striking and killing a pedestrian in Arizona went viral, inspiring thought-provoking pieces in outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. This flurry of high-profile media interest reflects current public concern with all things related to tech and automation. More specifically, it forces tough conversations about what a future full of robots means, as well as what happens if they make a mistake that could turn deadly.self driving los angeles

Some research suggests that self-driving technology would decrease automobile collisions in the long run, since 94% of accidents are due to driver error.  However, the Uber accident and another fatal accident involving a Tesla in autonomous mode a few days after have many people on edge, even as California continues to loosen existing rules, allowing for expanded testing of self-driving cars.

As with all new technologies, the laws often lag behind innovation, and there is still much ambiguity around rights and legal liability in accidents involving semi-autonomous or self-driving vehicles.  Here’s what you need to know about self-driving vehicle accidents, legal liability, and your rights.

Who is Liable?

The question of legal liability and pedestrian or driver rights in relation to self-driving vehicles is complicated, since this technology is still in the testing phase and not yet approved for the wider commercial market.  In other words, in the absence of a record of lawsuits, we can only speculate as to how the courts will determine who is responsible in these types of cases.

In 2015, Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo all indicated that they would assume liability for failures in their technology (although only the latter issued a public statement on the matter).  In general, there seems to be a recognition that vehicle manufacturers are more responsible for self-driving car accidents than drivers or operators.

However, the liability question for self-driving cars is further complicated by the fact that in some cases, two separate companies will be involved in the vehicle’s production.  For example, Google has indicated that it will only be involved in producing the self-driving technology that these cars rely on, but will not be involved in the manufacture of the cars themselves.

Some legal scholars have argued that the shift to self-driving cars will compel a separate shift in the legal doctrines governing car accidents, from vehicular negligence to product liability.  In other words, when a self-driving car is involved in an accident, lawsuits will be filed against car producers for producing a faulty product, rather than against drivers for negligence.

Some have suggested that states might be sued for failing to properly regulate a dangerous new technology; however, this circumstance is unlikely, since in general states cannot be held liable for policy determinations.  New legislation under consideration at the federal level proposes funneling claims related to self-driving cars into private arbitration, a process that has repeatedly been criticized for prioritizing the rights of powerful corporations over those of individual consumers.

What Does the Future Hold?

Technological innovation requires concomitant legal innovation.  The dearth of existing legislation and legal precedents related to self-driving vehicle accidents means that a self driving accident lawyer will be pioneering new terrain.  Earlier this year, Tesla settled a class-action lawsuit relating to its Autopilot software—the first it has faced—with a Tesla auto accident lawyer alleging that the features were “completely inoperable.”  It is likely that more of these lawsuits will become more commonplace as self-driving technology becomes available to the public.

If you or a loved one is injured in a self-driving vehicle accident, it is important that you have a veteran personal injury attorney at your side to competently navigate this new legal terrain and ensure your rights are protected.  At The Dominguez Firm, our auto accident attorneys have helped thousands of clients around the greater Los Angeles area to achieve justice for their injuries.  Call our offices today for a free consultation at 800-818-1818.