Who Is Responsible When Driverless Cars Cause a Crash?
The future promised in the 1950s of flying cars and full automation seems to be creeping closer with the advent of driverless cars. An argument in support of these vehicles is based on the premise that taking the unpredictability of human drivers out of the equation greatly reduces the number of traffic accidents. However, recent stories about car accidents caused by driverless vehicles shows that the technology is not as well-developed as the inventors would like the public to believe. Concerns about the stability of the technology are likely to grow as rideshare companies, like Uber, seek to supplement fleets with semi-automated vehicles. It may seem obvious that the human driver would be responsible for an accident since he/she could conceivably take-over control, but holding the manufacturer legally responsible may also be possible through a product liability lawsuit. Typically, in car accident injury cases a negligence suit is filed against the other drivers, but with the new driving technology, additional parties and legal claims may be relevant within a single case. While this technology is still in its infancy, it nevertheless can present potential dangers to others on the road. A discussion of what is necessary to prove a legal injury claim against the both driver and the manufacturer will follow below.
Negligence Claim against the Human Driver
Self-driving technology has not advanced to the point that a human driver is not required behind the wheel. The driver is there in case the car makes an incorrect assumption about an obstacle or traffic situation that calls for an adjustment to avoid an accident. Thus, in a negligence lawsuit for a car accident injury, an injured party could claim the human was at fault, for example, by not responding to the car’s miscalculation. To prove negligence, an injured party must demonstrate four items:
- the other driver owed the injured party a legal duty – all drivers have an obligation to operate their vehicles in a reasonable and safe manner;
- the other driver breached this duty – driving in an unsafe manner, such as turning in front of oncoming traffic, would constitute a breach;
- the breach caused the injury – the other driver’s unsafe behavior must be directly related to the accident; and
- an injury was suffered.
Product Liability Claim against the Manufacturer
When car manufacturers install systems that take control of the vehicles away from the human occupants, they could face potential liability in an accident based on product liability. All manufacturers have a duty to produce products that are safe, and if the driverless technology was engaged at the time of the accident, a claim for a design defect in the car’s system driving system could be asserted. Design defects are inherent flaws in a product that exist pre-manufacture and render the product unsafe to use. Basically, a company can be held liable for an injury caused by one its products if the risk of injury was foreseeable and could not be eliminated by using the product as intended. In the context of self-driving cars, if a plaintiff could prove that, even if the car’s driving system performed exactly as intended, it could not account for certain human driver behavior or understand how to navigate particular driving conditions, the manufacturer could be responsible for his/her injuries. Damage awards for product liability claims are typically much higher than negligence-based lawsuits, so this option would be good for an injured party if strong support for a claim is available. However, Florida law bases the determination of these claims on what the technology was at the time of manufacture and not at the time of the injury, which is likely to complicate this particular issue.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
Car accidents often leave the victims in a state of shock, and unable to realize an injury occurred. When the victim does realize he/she is hurt, and will require medical treatment and lost time at work, it is time to contact a personal injury attorney. You should not have to pay for someone else’s negligence, and the attorneys at Pita Weber & Del Prado are ready to fight for the compensation you deserve. Helping clients in the Miami area, contact us for a free consultation.