Who is responsible when there's an accident with a self-driving car? Google's cars, which rack up thousands of miles every week taking pictures for Google's "street views," have been in a number of minor accidents over the years. So far, Google claims that the accidents are all the fault of human drivers on the road. But what if the driverless vehicle is at fault? What if you're the person injured in an accident with a partially or fully automated vehicle? This is what you should know.
Automation doesn't mean an absence of liability.
Right now, the laws haven't had a chance to specifically address the issue of accidents involving automated cars, so a lot of the liability may ultimately have to be decided (unfortunately) once cases go to court. Depending on the circumstances, there are a number of potentially liable parties:
- the human operator who activated the automated functions of the car
- the manufacturer of the automated vehicle
- the designer of the technology that controls the automated vehicle or function
- the manufacturer of the automated technology features
One person who is always likely to be liable in a car accident is the owner of the vehicle, whether it is manned or a fully automated drone. Current laws generally hold the owner of a car liable for any accidents, even when the owner isn't in control of the car.
Product liability laws may also be important to your case.
If the accident was caused by a malfunction of the automated system, the manufacturer of the automated components, the automated components' designer/programmer, and the car manufacturer who put the automated system into its vehicle may all bear varying degrees of responsibility for the accident.
Each of those participants who brought the product to market has a duty to make sure that the product operates correctly and safely. For example, if a car manufacturer puts an automated braking system into its car that is supposed to stop before it hits anything in front of it, and that system fails and allows the car to hit you, there's reason to question why the automated mechanisms failed to work properly.
Your attorney will probably try to find out the answer to a number of questions. How was the product determined to be safe? What made it fail? Was it a design flaw or was a flawed part used during manufacturing? Did the product get installed correctly in the vehicle? Was it tested at all stages? The answers to those questions will likely determine where the failure occurred and who can be held liable for your injuries.
The question of overall product safety could also be an issue.
What if the product wasn't particularly safe in the first place? For example, imagine that the car that hit you had an automatic lane-keeping feature that's supposed to keep the car in its own lane. What if the ground was covered in snow and the car couldn't tell where the lane's boundaries were? A principle of law known as "failure to warn" could come into play.
The designer, manufacturer, and distributor all have a responsibility to warn people of the foreseeable dangers of a product. If your attorney can determine that any of those possible defendants knew that the car could have trouble finding its lane in blizzard-like conditions and didn't provide adequate warnings, they might be held liable for your injuries. It's foreseeable that, absent warnings to the contrary, someone would allow that sort of system to operate in a snowstorm, not realizing that it wouldn't work properly.
If you're in an accident involving a vehicle that's operating even partially under its own automation, discuss the possibility that someone other than the vehicle's owner may be responsible for your injuries. For more information, contact a company like The Jaklitsch Law Group.