Who is responsible in driverless car accidents?

By Greg Kohn

There is no doubt that self-driving cars are an amazing invention. They can permit people to get around in a cost-effective way that simply was not possible without this new technology. However, even the best technology can fail occasionally, and when that technology involves the vehicle, crashes will happen.

Accidents with driverless vehicles involve complex legal theories that have not been fully developed yet. If you have been involved in a crash with a driverless car or as a passenger of a self-driving vehicle, you have legal options that you can explore with a New Jersey car accident attorney.

Concerning Results for Driverless Cars

At the end of March 2018, a driverless Uber vehicle in Arizona struck a woman as she was walking her bicycle across the crosswalk. She was killed because of the accident. The car was traveling 40 mph at the time of the incident (under the speed limit), and the driving records show no indication that it attempted to slow down before the crash. Clearly, this is a technical glitch that turned fatal.

It is unclear at this time whether the woman’s estate will assert a legal claim in court. However, this is not the first accident involving a driverless vehicle, and it certainly will not be the last.

Legal Liability in Driverless Car Accidents

Traditional tort law still applies to these driverless car situations. This is the same legal basis that would be used in most regular car accidents. The difference is that because there is no driver to involve in the suit, or a corresponding insurance company, victims must look elsewhere for compensation related to their losses.

Liability law could be applied to the manufacturer of the vehicle, the company that maintains the vehicle, or the entity that owns the car. Often these potentially separate parties are the same company in driverless car situations, but not always. In some accidents, there is a “safety” driver involved that is there to correct any potential errors in the system that would lead to a crash. If he or she did nothing to prevent the accident, that person could be a named party as well.

In the Arizona case, for example, the owner of the vehicle was Uber. Volvo manufactured the car, and another company supplied the technology for the self-driving vehicle. Any of those companies could be held responsible for damages. In most situations, they would all be named as parties initially.

Accepting Responsibility for Glitches

Companies like Uber and Volvo have indicated that they want to cooperate with investigators and will take full responsibility for accidents caused by their vehicles or technology. That means that naming the right party in a lawsuit may be far less of an issue than initially thought.

Of course, when there is no driver, the focus is going to be more on the design of the vehicle and the technology it uses, which makes these cases much more complicated.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident, do not wait to contact a New Jersey personal injury attorney. We have the experience you need to help. Contact us today for more information.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.