Who is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

August 28, 2020

Human error is the leading cause of accidents in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 94% of all car accidents result from human error. Thousands of lives are lost each year due to drunk driving, speeding, or other forms of negligence.

For this reason, companies like Uber and Tesla have invested millions in developing fully autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars. Although they have yet to develop a fully-automated self-driving car that consumers trust, they are actively working to make this a possibility in the near future. 

With these new advancements come a much deeper legal challenge: Who can be held accountable for self-driving vehicle accidents? Many legal scholars agree that we will soon see a shift from car accident fault to product liability as these advancements come to market.

Product Liability and Self-Driving Cars

In most states, car accidents are considered personal liability. Due to the negligence of a driver or vehicle operator, an accident occurs that harms another person. In most states, the negligent driver responsible for the accident can be held personally accountable for medical expenses, property damage, pain and suffering, and other incurred costs.

As self-driving vehicles become more prominent, this liability MAY shift from personal liability to product liability – the doctrine that a manufacturer is responsible for creating and maintaining safe products. Currently, Uber and Tesla require a human operator or “pilot” to assist with the vehicle’s operation. However, in 2016 a driver’s Tesla crashed into the side of a semi-truck while in autopilot, killing the driver. There have been many subsequent self-driving car accidents, focusing legal discussions on defective product law rather than a personal liability. After all, it was a computer and operating system that caused these crashes.

Accountability for Self-Driving Car Accidents

Depending on the accident’s circumstances, the product manufacturer or seller may bear sole responsibility for injuries sustained by other drivers or the “pilot” in self-driving car accidents. As with any car accident, there may be several different parties who bear responsibility. A self-driving car accident may involve speeding vehicles, pedestrians, road hazards, or dangerous weather conditions.

Here are a few of the parties who may be responsible in a self-driving car accident:

  • The engineers who created the operating system for the autonomous vehicle.
  • The automobile company.
  • The marketing company responsible for advertising the car.
  • Another driver on the road.
  • The “pilot” of the self-driving car.
  • A negligent or inattentive pedestrian.
  • A motorcyclist.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

The law is continually changing as new technologies are developed. That’s why it’s essential to retain an attorney who understands the principles behind laws, and how to adapt them in situations as the car industry evolves.

The lawyers at Saladino & Schaaf have more than 75 years of combined experience representing Kentucky personal injury clients. Contact us for a free case evaluation or call us at 270-444-0406 (Paducah, KY) / 270-753-1529 (Murray, KY) to discuss your accident with one of our attorneys.




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