Driverless Car Accident Liability

For more information, please contact The Ahearne Law Firm, PLLC at (845) 763-4100 for a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

Though we mentioned in our April 3rd blog post (Road Accidents & Crashes) that road maintenance and alcohol-related crashes are two of the more common sources of traffic accidents to be aware of when traveling on Orange County and Hudson Valley roads, recent news about crashes involving driverless cars, also referred to as self-driving or autonomous, are prompting policymakers and lawyers to address the issue of driver, passenger and pedestrian injuries.

In a new study he conducted regarding the shift in blame for a crash and what party should really be at fault, Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor, stated,

To prove that an automated driving system performed unreasonably, an injured plaintiff would likely need to show either that a human driver would have done better or that another, actual or theoretical, automated driving system would have done better … The standard for reasonable safety is always increasing, and automated driving is no exception … The technologies that will amaze us in the next few years could seem laughably — or dangerously — anachronistic a decade later.”

The issue of liability was also raised by Anders Karrberg, Vice President of Government Affairs at Volvo Car Corp., to a House subcommittee earlier this month: “It is really not that strange. Carmakers should take liability for any system in the car. So we have declared that if there is a malfunction to the [autonomous driving] system when operating autonomously, we would take the product liability.”

Presently, the majority of automobile collision claims involve clear liability on the part of a motorist and are settled prior to trial. However, if each car accident lawsuit with injuries became a product liability lawsuit, the costs of prosecuting these cases would deter the vast majority of claims due to the expense to retain expert witnesses who could testify to technical reasons for a failure. Many injured parties in motor vehicle accidents would go uncompensated as a result.

Although taking humans out of the equation when it comes to driving should reduce the number of accidents, it certainly won’t eliminate them completely. Ash Hassib, Senior Vice President for Auto and Home Insurance at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which provides statistical data to the insurance industry, says,

Those of us who have been in the software world know that software has bugs, so there’s no perfect solution. There is so much brainpower that goes on when driving a car, so it will take a long time to teach a machine all the possible scenarios that could take place. Eighty percent of the scenarios will be quick, but trying to get to the last 20 percent is going to take a very long time.”

New York’s no-fault insurance system may eliminate this liability issue as no-fault coverage eliminates injury liability claims and lawsuits in smaller accidents in exchange for prompt direct payment of medical bills and lost wages — up to certain dollar amounts — regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

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