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Who is Liable When an Autonomous Vehicle Crashes?

March 25, 2020

The advent of autonomous vehicle technology has created plenty of buzz all over the world, but a variety of questions remain who is to blame when an autonomous vehicle causes an accident. Mass adoption of the technology proclaims that accidents will decrease significantly and therefore significantly reduce insurance premiums. However, autonomous vehicle technology remains far from perfect, and accidents do still occur. A Los Angeles car accident lawyer can help you understand who might be at fault if you’ve been involved in an accident with a self-driving car. 

Understanding the Complexity

Current automobile accident laws were not designed with self-driving vehicles in mind. In most cases, when a car accident occurs, fault can easily be assigned to the negligence of one or both parties. With self-driving vehicles, it is presumed that the car’s hardware or software may have glitched, causing an accident. In that case, there may be multiple parties to blame for the incident.

Furthermore, the law has offered little guidance as to what should happen when a self-driving vehicle makes a split second-decision that winds up injuring someone else. For example, let’s say you’re driving an autonomous vehicle down the road, when a non-autonomous vehicle suddenly darts into your path. The self-driving vehicle’s censor is designed to avoid an accident at all costs, but what if doing so causes another accident, instead? 

Because the hardware and software that goes along with an autonomous vehicle is supplied by many different companies, proving liability in a self-driving car accident is tricky and may often involve a products liability claim. This compounds the complexity of litigating a personal injury case with a self-driving vehicle. 

Nuances in Determining Liability

Though today’s self driving cars still require the oversight of a driver, there are other liability questions involved when a self-driving car has crashed. One challenge affecting liability in such crashes is its complexity. Because autonomous vehicle software and hardware is supplied by dozens of different companies, placing liability on the car manufacturer itself may not be so straightforward. Having more autonomous vehicles on the road will likely increase the potential for product defects to occur, and while product defect claims related to automobile accidents are quite common, these legal issues would be substantially different in the context of an autonomous vehicle crash.

For example, in a typical product defect claim that may or may not have resulted in a car accident, a Los Angeles car accident lawyer would likely set out to determine exactly what role the driver played in the incident. Should the vehicle product have prevented the accident, did it exacerbate the accident, or did the driver merely fail to operate the vehicle as it was intended?

In a product defect claim involving a self-driving car, however, the vehicle is operated by a computer and the probability that human error was involved substantially decreases. Instead, attorneys and accident specialists will examine various technological malfunctions that may have occurred due to hardware and software glitches. 

Who is at Fault in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Despite the fact that autonomous vehicles operate almost entirely through technology, Drivers can still generally be considered liable in self-driving car accidents – even though the car is theoretically intelligent enough to navigate obstacles on the road itself. In California, the law explicitly states that “an operator of an autonomous vehicle is the person who is seated in the driver’s seat, or if there is no person in the driver’s seat, causes the autonomous technology to engage.” The law requires autonomous vehicles to be equipped with systems to alert the driver if the self-driving system has glitched or failed, which would require the driver to take the wheel. As such, a mechanism has been created that can still place the driver at fault of an accident, despite the existence of a product defect.

Contact a Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyer After an Autonomous Vehicle Accident

Because the law explicitly states that a driver can still be held liable for an autonomous vehicle crash, it’s wise to contact an attorney if you’ve been involved in such an accident in California. This highly nuanced, evolving area of law requires the expertise and counsel of an experienced car accident attorney.

© 2020 Banafshe Law Firm, PC.