Jan 01 2019

Self-Driving Car Features & Liability, Part 2

In part one of this two-part blog, we went over some of the basics of self-driving cars. This newer technology is becoming a larger and larger consideration for auto manufacturers, buyers and insurance companies alike, with many benefits but also a few potential drawbacks to consider.

At the offices of William Rawlings & Associates, we have auto accident attorneys always on hand for any car-related incident you’re involved in. In today’s part two, we’ll look a bit more closely at some of the liability issues related to self-driving cars, ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber, and how litigation in these areas might be changing.

self-driving car features liability

Crashes and Liability

Because self-driving cars are so new and have barely hit the market in most areas (if at all), we’re still in the very nascent stages of how liability will work for them. We’re mostly still in the realm of establishing legal precedent, which has begun to happen in a couple significant cases:

  • In 2017, a self-driving Uber vehicle crashed in Tempe, Arizona and caused the death of a pedestrian. The vehicle to crash was an SUV, which flipped on its side after traveling at 38 miles per hour. An early investigation found that the pedestrian may have been at fault due to jaywalking and walking in a non-crosswalk area, and the case was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board while prompting significant conversation.
  • A Tesla vehicle using autopilot collided with a tractor-trailer, leading to the death of the Tesla’s operator. But before the crash, the Tesla vehicle was reportedly flashing a warning signal to the driver to disengage the autopilot.

Uber and Lyft

Some in the field have noted that, when it comes to ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber, tort law principles may be applied for negligence. Using the case listed above involving the Uber vehicle and a pedestrian, here are the basic factors:

  • If the self-driving Uber did not note the pedestrian’s presence, Uber and the vehicle’s manufacturer would likely be responsible under product liability principles.
  • If the pedestrian was crossing at night and obscured by darkness, she could be at least partially liable.
  • If the pedestrian’s conduct caused the accident to be unavoidable, she may be fully liable. This scenario is less likely, however.

These interpretations will also vary based on individual states, as the NHTSA is only responsible for overseeing basic guidelines and regulations.

Litigation

The Tempe case mentioned above, which has yet to hit litigation, could provide a baseline for future such cases. It will likely devolve into a battle between Uber, the vehicle manufacturer, and the suppliers of the self-driving automation technology in terms of who is liable. Some self-driving systems may contain confidential indemnification agreements that companies use to protect themselves. It’s possible multiple entities could be found liable and/or sued during this process.

For more on self-driving cars and liability, or to learn about any of our auto accident or personal injury attorney services, speak to the staff at William Rawlings & Associates today.