Self-Driving Cars and Accident Liability
It seems that every day a story is posted in the media announcing a new device that will make our lives easier and more automated. From home monitoring systems that allow homeowners to control appliances and electronics from far away to robotic vacuums that clean a home entirely without human involvement, technology is slowly approaching a time when manual labor will be the exclusive work of robots. As this reality becomes more widespread, it will be more difficult to determine legal liability when someone is injured and wants to file a personal injury lawsuit, especially in the context of a car accident. As self-driving cars become a larger percentage of vehicles traveling on the road, the likelihood of an accident will increase, and question emerges as to who is responsible – manufacturer of the self-driving car, the person riding in the self-driving car, or the driver of the traditional vehicle? Technological issues that could help make this determination, and what happens if more than one party is fault for an accident, will be explored below.
Who Is in Control?
One of the main claims that developers of self-driving cars make is that all car accidents are the result of human error, so if one takes away human control of the vehicle, accidents will become a thing of the past. However, recent history has demonstrated this claim is not that easy to maintain. A Google self-driving vehicle was in accident with a bus earlier this year that forced the company to admit fault after the car crossed to other side of road to avoid a hazard and failed to anticipate the possibility that a larger vehicle would not yield. Google initially envisioned a vehicle that would be completely controlled by software and not include a steering wheel or brake pedals. Regulators required the company to add these features before it would permit them on the roads, so human intervention is a possibility. In addition, there was an accident involving a Tesla in May that killed the driver when the car collided with a tractor trailer. In contrast to the Google cars, Tesla uses an autopilot mode that allows the driver to release steering wheel but, this mode is only meant to assist the driver and not completely take over operation of the vehicle. What these two accidents reveal is that the software is capable of mistakes, and at least at this point, cannot guarantee a mistake-free driving experience. Consequently, the manufacturer could face some liability for car accidents. Further, if humans are given the option of taking control of these vehicles, it stands to reason that they could bear responsibility for an accident as well since they could conceivably take over to avoid collisions.
More than One Party at Fault
So, now that it looks like the manufacturer and the driver of the self-driving vehicle are susceptible to assignments of fault in car accidents, another issue to consider is the effect on a personal injury case if more than one party is found to be liable. In all car accident cases, it is necessary to determine how much fault each party holds for the collision that occurred. Florida operates under a pure comparative fault rule, which means that even if the plaintiff is 90 percent at fault for the accident, the defendant will still be responsible for paying 10 percent of the damages. Going back to the self-driving car scenario, if the manufacturer is found to be 30 percent at fault, the person in the self-driving car 20 percent, and the driver in the traditional car 50 percent, the manufacturer and self-driving car owner will have to pay the other driver for half of the damages he/she incurred.
Get Legal Advice
If you were injured in a car accident, do not wait to speak with a personal injury lawyer about the possibility of filing a lawsuit. Florida has a four-year time limit on the length of time a person has to file suit, and the longer someone waits, the more likely evidence will be lost. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado will evaluate your case and let you know the likelihood of success. Contact us for a free consultation.