Self-Driving Cars Create A Whole New Set Of Questions For Personal Injury Lawyers
In a recent blog I discussed the issue of self-driving cars. On a flight to Texas this week I was thinking about a conversation I had with a guy about how computers fly the commercial aircraft we were going to be flying an hour later. The next time you are landing in a commercial jet take a minute to think about the fact that a computer is putting this aircraft on the runway.
The idea of being able to get in my car and have it drive me to work as I check my email, read the paper, write out my “to do” list sounds great. Longer trips with a self-driving car would be even better. Inevitably, there are going to be those who think that if they are a little sleepy on a long trip, it’s ok because the car is going to maintain a constant speed, keep you within your lane, slow down or stop for vehicles ahead.
Who To Sue
That thought led me to the question that all personal Injury Lawyers would have at the top of their list. If you have a client in a Nashville car accident with a self-driving car and your client has sustained serious injuries, just who do you sue to collect damages to compensate for these injuries. Under the comparative negligence rule you might well have to sue the car manufacturer, the programmer of the computer programs for operation of the self-driving car, or the manufacturers of the cameras or other devices for some alleged failure? Does a traffic accident become a products liability case? Maybe.
Another issue that comes to mind is proving negligence. Did the computer malfunction? Was the company negligent in the design of the car, the software or the sensors. If the streets are in such ill-repair that the sensors cannot follow it will we have to add the municipality or state responsible for repairing them? Which company manufactured these separate items and in what jurisdiction are they located. Will personal injury car accident cases need to be filed in Federal Court under diversity of jurisdiction?
The Google Self-Driving Car
In it’s present incarnation the Google self-driving car does not have a steering wheel or foot pedals for a driver to take over operation of the car. Most of Google’s 1.5 million miles of vehicle testing has taken place in California. In December California proposed news rules that require these vehicles to have a steering wheel, brake pedals and a licensed driver in all test vehicles. As a result of these rules Google has moved the continued testing to Arizona.
On The National Level
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is presently working on new guidance on self-driving cars for states and automakers that they hope to release by July. Also, in February 2016, NHTSA said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.
Years of automobile negligence law could go out the window when these self-driving cars hit the streets. This situation raises a whole lot of questions. I’d love to hear from some other automobile accident lawyers as to their take on issues and solutions to these questions.
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