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Runner Up Scholarship Essay on Automated Cars and the Future of Driverless Cars in the Legal Community

The below essay was from the one of the two runner up prize winners of the First Annual Benson & Bingham Scholarship Contest.  Submitted by Dre’Kevius O. Huff who is currently attending Savannah Law School, we are proud to showcase why attorneys Joseph Benson and Ben Bingham selected Mr. O. Huff as one of the recipient's of the $250 runner-up scholarship awards.  Like Mr. Hernandez's essay, Mr. O. Huff decided to comment on the Automated Automotives: The Future of Driverless Cars and the Legal Community.

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Introduction

The prospect of Driverless Cars has the potential to change the future of the automotive industry. As technology for driverless cars advances, state and local governments will need to address the potential impacts these vehicles will have on the road.[1] In 2017, 33 states have introduced legislation concerning cars; last year, 20 states introduced legislation.[2] Not only have states had to be proactive in dealing with the future of autonomous cars, but this future will also affect lawyers and the law. This essay will discuss how autonomous cars will affect not only personal injury law, but also others areas, including products liability and insurance.

A.    Money! Money! Money!

Driverless technology has the potential to save millions from death and injury and can eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in costs.[3] One article recognized this, stating

As the development of autonomous vehicles marches forward, personal injury firms should be thinking about the future of their practice. Fredric Litwiniuk, of Litwiniuk & Co. Barristers and Solicitors in Calgary, says his firm has already seen a reduction in accident files with the onslaught of new safety features in cars — the amount of files has stayed the same despite population increase — and expects that trend to continue as the technology trickles from luxury cars into the mainstream market. Driverless cars, and what they will mean for the business of personal injury law, is always on the mind of his firm as it readies for “some sort of transition,” whatever it may look like. Litwiniuk, director of business development and marketing at his firm, says personal injury lawyers, like any other lawyer in a practice area that is changing, have to be “ready and willing to adapt to the new situation.” While from a human standpoint, anything that reduces the number of accidents is a positive thing — “We see first-hand the kind of impact it has on lives,” he says — from a business standpoint, “we just have to be cognizant that this is something that’s coming and start positioning ourselves for the transition in law, the transition in practice.” It’s always hard to predict the future, he says, but for him, “the potential to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities on the roads is huge and can’t be ignored.”[4]

Google has claimed that their driverless car can reduce traffic accidents by 90%, reduce commute time and energy by 90%, and reduce the number of cars by 90%.[5] This is a significant claim considering 5.5 million motor vehicle accidents occurred in the United States, involving 9.5 million vehicles, killing 33,808 people, injuring 2.2 million others, 240,900 of which had to be hospitalized.[6] What does this mean for personal injury lawyers? Driverless cars could mean less people behind the wheel. Autonomous cars can’t drive under the influence, and can more easily adjust to adverse road conditions such as snow, rain, and fog.[7] When accidents do happen, however, autonomous cars may raise an issue as to who is at fault: the driver, manufacturer, or some other entity.

B.     Liability Hot Potato

For car manufacturers like Tesla or Nissan, respective CEOs Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn have plans to introduce autonomous cars in the near future.[8] Although more driverless cars means less drivers, this does not absolve the issue of liability. It is most likely that many claims that would be personal injury claims when the driver of a car is a person would turn into products liability claims if (or when) driverless cars become prominent on the highways. Because driverless cars are, by definition, not driven by a person, this would place liability on the manufacturers of the vehicles, who would be on the hook for selling a defective product if a flaw in their software leads to an accident.[9] There is some force behind the argument that, if a driverless car is defective in manufacture or design, those responsible for the design and manufacturing should be liable for the damage caused.[10] Personal injury attorneys may have greater opportunities for class actions against manufacturers or to resolve disputes over liability for machine-driven accidents.[11] Additionally, the growing presence of autonomous vehicles should inspire state and federal legislature to implement a progressive body of law to govern the emerging technology which would be based on traditional notions of fault, not just products liability.[12] With the emergence of driverless cars and burgeoning technology, new issues of law may be raised that current case law or statutes fail to resolve.

C.    Novel Legal Issues

With new advances in the automotive field comes new issues for the courts and attorneys to struggle with. As mentioned earlier, I believe that the most likely to solution to driverless cars is that most personal injury claims would become products liability claims. However, what happens in a products liability claim against a manufacturer of a driverless car when the manufacturer investigates and determines that there was nothing wrong with the car’s technology?[13] What other defendants are brought into the case? The list could grow to include the company who developed the software, programmers, GPS mapping companies, developers of the algorithms used in the company’s software, and more.[14] Does the claim now revert to a personal injury claim against the driver? If the driver was not driving, who is at fault? Is the injured plaintiff left without remedy? Cases of this type would seemingly require an expert witness in every case to understand the complexities of the autonomous vehicle. Personal injury lawyers will be needed to help resolve these novel issues of law and help both the judge and jury understand this new technology. There is another issue that is ancillary to the novel legal issues that will undoubtedly arise as driverless cars become more prominent: what happens to insurance companies?

D.    Insurance Market

According to the Insurance Journal, the combination of autonomous vehicle technology, a rise in on-demand transportation, and a shifting of liability to manufacturers will shrink the automotive insurance sector by more than 70%, or $137 billion dollars by 2050.[15] With manufacturers becoming the alternative to covering the driving risk, insurance companies face the risk of obsolescence.[16] The main risks to automotive insurance comes three-fold: (1) autonomous technology is making cars increasingly safer, (2) auto manufacturers will assume more of the driving risk and associated liability and have more opportunities to provide insurance to car buyers, taking market shares away from traditional insurers, and (3) rapid adoption of mobility-on-demand is quickly translating into the need for less personal auto coverage, with the use of fleets requiring commercial auto insurance.[17] These issues would force insurance companies to adapt to the changing atmosphere when less and less drivers will need insurance, or risk fading into obscurity.

Conclusion

Autonomous cars will, undoubtedly have a widespread impact on the legal community, insurance companies, and technology developers. There are predictions that driverless cars will reduce cars accidents, which would reduce injuries, death, hospital bills, and, most importantly for this essay (and for lawyers!), the number of personal injury suits and the need for insurance. Although this may seem disheartening and daunting, personal injury attorneys, products liability, and traditional tort law itself, will evolve to combat the future issues that are part and parcel with any new development that affects the legal community (for example, think about how computers, the internet, fax machines, Westlaw and Lexis, and more have been invented or developed, and how the legal community has adapted and assimilated to a more technologically advanced world). While lawyers and judges may struggle at first with the seemingly herculean task of developing jurisprudence concerning autonomous cars and the surrounding technology, the legal community has adapted before, and will adapt now, albeit slowly, but are surely and steadily as the tortoise in the race against the hare.


[1] NCSL, Autonomous Vehicles, Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation, (Jul. 25, 2017), http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-self-driving-vehicles-enacted-legisl....

[2] Id.

[3] Chunka Mui, Fasten Your Seatbelts: Google's Driverless Car Is Worth Trillions (Part 1), Forbes (Jan. 22, 2013, 10:12 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2013/01/22/fasten-your-seatbelts-googles-driverless-car-is-wo....

[4] Mallory Hendry, In the driver’s seat, Canadian Lawyer (Feb. 27, 2017), http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/6332/In-the-drivers-seat.html.

[5] Id; see John Barbier, Self-driving cars will disrupt more than the auto industry. Here are the winners and loser, CNBC (May 3, 2017), https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/03/self-driving-cars-will-disrupt-10-industries-commentary.html (“Personal injury lawyers will see a significant decrease in demand for their services. Vehicle collisions, which accounted for 35 percent of all civil trials in 2005, will be all but eliminated with automated vehicles. While this may seem like a niche of professionals, around 76,000 attorneys in the U.S. specialize in personal injury and make up approximately 6 percent of the country's population of lawyers.”).

[6] Id; see Law360, The Road Ahead: Liability from Driverless Cars, Law360 (Feb. 2, 2015), https://www.law360.com/articles/616898/the-road-ahead-liability-from-driverless-cars (“All told, with $600 billion in car sales, $450 billion in crashes, $200 billion in auto insurance premiums and hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs related to car accidents, there is approximately $2 trillion in revenue associated with cars each year in the U.S. All of this is surely to be reallocated as the industry undergoes structural changes.”).

[7] eGeneration Marketing, How Will Self-Driving Cars Affect Personal Injury Cases?, http://www.egenerationmarketing.com/blog/self-driving-cars-personal-injury (last visited Aug. 26, 2017).

[8] John Markoff, For Now, Self-Driving Cars Still Need Humans, New York Times (Jan. 16, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/18/technology/driverless-cars-limits-include-human-nature.html?actio.... However, these cars would not be completely autonomous and would require human control in some complex driving situations and emergencies. During these situations, there is a “handoff” problem where the car must relinquish control back to the driver while having no way to assure that the driver is not distracted, texting, reading an email, etc. Id.

[9] eGeneration, supra note 7.

[10] FreeAdvice staff, How Will A Driverless Car Affect Cart Accident Claims?, Accident Law, https://accident-law.freeadvice.com/accident-law/accidents-in-the-news/how-will-a-driverless-car-affect-car-accident-claims.htm (last visited Aug. 26, 2017).

[11] Law360, The Road Ahead: Liability from Driverless Cars, Law360 (Feb. 2, 2015), https://www.law360.com/articles/616898/the-road-ahead-liability-from-driverless-cars.

[12] Id.

[13] Scot D. Goldberg, Driverless Cars: The End of Personal Injury Lawyers?, Goldberg Law (Oct. 4, 2016), http://www.goldberg-law.com/driverless-cars-the-end-of-personal-injury-lawyers.

[14] Goldberg, supra note 11.

[15] Insurance Journal, Auto Insurance Market to Shrink by 70% by 2050: KPMG, (Jun. 29, 2017), http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2017/06/29/456094.htm.

[16] Id.

[17] Id (“The trends seen by KPMG are in keeping with a report by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) on the effect of technology on insurance. The report that found autonomous cars will reduce accident rates, shift liability from drivers to manufacturers and lead to a drop in car ownership in favor of motor fleets, car-sharing and driverless taxis. All of this means that auto insurance carriers have their work cut out for them to survive, according to the advisory firm. The time for insurers to act is now, KPMG said. ‘Insurance companies will have to make important strategic and tactical changes sooner than anticipated to navigate through this turbulent transformation of the industry,’ said Jerry Albright, principal in KPMG’s Actuarial and Insurance Risk practice. In the meantime, these new business models will ‘bring about a decade or so of a “chaotic middle” as insurers adjust their strategies and operations as autonomous vehicle technologies significantly deplete the need for personal auto insurance.’”); see also Insurance Journal, Self-Driving Cars to transform Motor Insurance in Liability Shift: Fitch, (March 17, 2017), http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2017/03/17/444895.htm (“‘The question of who is liable in the event of a crash involving an autonomous vehicle will be fundamental to the future of the motor insurance industry,’ said the report titled ‘Driverless Cars to Transform Motor Insurance – Insurers Will Have to Adapt to Stay Relevant.’ Over the years, Fitch expects that risk coverage will shift from personal motor insurance policies to commercial product liability. To stay relevant during the transition to self-driving vehicles, insurers will be forced to diversify in search of other profit sources, while some insurers that fail to adapt will disappear, the report warned.”).



This post first appeared on Las Vegas Injury & Accident Attorney Blog | Benson, please read the originial post: here

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Runner Up Scholarship Essay on Automated Cars and the Future of Driverless Cars in the Legal Community

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