A recent fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona has raised serious and urgent safety concerns about self-driving vehicles. In addition to the pressing safety issues, federal legislators are also concerned about the legal rights of injury victims who are hurt by self-driving vehicles.
The technology is still so new that the law has not yet made clear provisions for liability in such accidents. This is why it is so important for victims who have been injured by a self-driving vehicle to have the guidance of a personal injury attorney who has experience in issues of product liability and technology.
Legal Issues Created By Self-Driving Vehicles
There are not yet statutes or case law that clearly establishes liability for accidents caused by self-driving vehicles. This is a twofold problem:
- First, it is not clear when a self-driving error is sufficient to be deemed "negligent." A finding of negligence is required before a defendant is legally obligated to compensate an injury victim for his or her losses.
- Second, when an error in autonomous driving features is sufficient to be negligent, it is not clear who, exactly, will be legally responsible for that error. It could be the vehicle manufacturer, or the manufacturer of a specific component of autonomous driving technology (such as cameras or driving software). It could also be a backup driver who is legally obligated to be in the driver’s seat as a safety precaution.
Self-driving Uber and Lyft vehicles
The issue is further complicated when the self-driving vehicle is owned or operated by a ride sharing company (such as Uber or Lyft). This introduces yet another party to litigation that is guided by no clear or established rules of liability.
The Detroit Free Press raises yet another important issue created by accidents involving self-driving Uber vehicles. Under Uber’s Terms of Service, passengers can be required to submit their legal claims to binding arbitration instead of litigating them in court. This can be highly disadvantageous to an injury victim who is deprived of a jury of his or her peers to determine whether Uber was negligent.
Binding arbitration is also usually a confidential process. This deprives an accident victim of the ability to speak publicly about the accident or use the media to share the message about safety issues with Uber service. Ten United States Senators have sent a public letter to American auto manufacturers about this issue. In the wake of the Arizona accident, they are concerned that forced arbitration could restrict injury victims’ legal right to be compensated for financial losses incurred as a result of an accident with a self-driving car.
Our Columbia auto accident lawyers have seen real South Carolina accident victims suffer greatly for years after an accident occurs. These victims have the right to be compensated for their losses, and this right is not limited by the fact that a self-driving vehicle happened to be involved in the collision. These auto accident cases can be complicated, but it is important that they be fought in order to hold manufacturers accountable for making self-driving technologies as safe as possible.