Several technology companies, in collaboration with motor vehicle manufacturers, are at various phases of development and testing of self-driving vehicles. The core idea is that since human error causes most auto accidents, self-driving cars could potentially save lives.
Removing human error from the roadways is certainly an understandable endeavor. However, when self-driving vehicles are involved in crashes, the issue of legal liability for the accident remains to be determined.
Issues Automation Seeks to Avoid
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), human error is the reason for a large percentage of all vehicle accidents. Nearly 40,000 people lose their lives in vehicle accidents in the US each year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 94 percent of auto collisions in the US occur due to human error.
There are massive economic costs to vehicle accidents, from property damages to lost productivity in the workplace. For many of these issues, self-driving cars are seen as a potential solution. However, devastating accidents involving autonomous vehicles have raised concerns regarding liability.
Who is Liable When an Autonomous Vehicle Injures People?
In a car accident under normal circumstances, California law holds the at-fault party liable for all damages and losses that they caused. When an automobile is technically driving itself, the liable parties still must be identified. Generally speaking, liability occurs due to one or more of the following issues:
The first place an injury victim should assess is still human error. Even the most advanced technology cannot protect the public from reckless human operators if the human motorist has ultimate control of the automobile. Could the backup motorist have done something to prevent the accident? If a motorist does not remain alert while behind the wheel or misuses the technology, then that driver may be at fault for the collision. In certain accidents, another vehicle’s operator may make a mistake.
At times, technology simply fails. Anyone who has driven a regular vehicle knows that brakes can malfunction, engines can fail, and parts can be faulty. If a driverless automobile is being operated correctly and as designed but somehow malfunctions, then the automaker may be the liable party for any injuries that the defective vehicle caused.
Lax Government Regulations
A government regulatory body that allows self-driving vehicles to be tested on public roads may potentially be accountable for allowing experimental vehicle testing on public roadways if the testing exposes the public to an unreasonable risk of harm.
Faulty Design or Manufacturing
Sometimes the vehicle’s design is defective. For example, there have been conventional vehicles that were manufactured with centers of gravity that were too high, leading to rollover accidents. Does a self-driven vehicle have a design fault in the auto-pilot technology that the manufacturer should have recognized? Self-driving cars will raise new questions on the matter of liability.
How is Insurance Managed in Self-Driven Vehicle Accidents?
It is crucial to understand that a product’s manufacturer is still liable for what harm that product causes. Presently, there are no automobiles in use on California highways that function entirely without human assistance. A human operator still has some degree of control and responsibility for navigating an autonomous vehicle. The vehicle’s operator and manufacturer are primarily responsible for what the vehicle does, at least for the time being.
Over time, consumers should expect greater levels of autonomy, which may eventually lead to completely autonomous cars that do not require human intervention. But that is several years in the future. When society reaches that point, then the responsibility for a crash would probably shift more to the manufacturers and designers of the autonomous vehicle. Until then, the responsibility will likely be shared.
Compensation for Self-Driving Vehicle Crashes
There are various ways to collect compensation for an autonomous vehicle crash. You may be entitled to the following damages:
As an injury victim, you can seek compensation for medical expenses, including emergency room visits, doctor consultations, medical care, drugs, surgeries, and rehabilitation costs as a part of your claim.
Compensation for property damage includes reimbursement of repair or replacement expenses for any personal property destroyed or damaged by a self-driven vehicle.
Pain and suffering
Catastrophic injuries commonly occur in accidents that involve pedestrians. Such injuries can warrant compensation for the physical and psychological harm caused by the crash and the failure of the defendant to recognize and address the hazards.
If your injuries require you to take time off work, you can claim lost income or even future lost income (in case your injuries cause permanent impairment or disability).
Southern California Personal Injury Attorneys are Here to Help
If you have sustained a severe injury or lost a loved one due to another’s recklessness, you deserve qualified and aggressive legal representation right from the outset of your case. The law sets a time limit on how long you can wait to sue those responsible, so don’t delay seeking help. The seasoned legal team at Garmo & Garmo in La Mesa, CA stands ready to help with even the most difficult cases. Contact us today at (619) 441-2500 for a free case review.