Who takes the fall for a self driving car that’s involved in an accident and kills someone? The blame has to land somewhere. Is it the operator, the owner, the manufacturer, a little of each? The debate is ongoing and the answer is still unclear.
The First Incident
Unfortunately, this issue reared its ugly head when the first death from an autonomous vehicle on a public road occurred in March of this year. 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was crossing a street in Tempe, Arizona on the night of March 18 when she was suddenly struck. Herzberg was walking with a bike outside of a crosswalk. The vehicle, which was owned by Uber, had an operator in the car. The vehicle did not slow down and was traveling at almost 40 miles per hour. Police did not suspect the operator of being impaired. Immediately following the terrible event, Uber put a hold on self-driving tests in Arizona and across the nation.
Who gets the Blame?
A huge issue with these types of accidents is finding where and with whom the accountability lies.
Conventional tort law principles explained by Stanford Law School Professor Robert Rabin, suggest that Uber would be responsible if there was a lack of reasonable care shown by the operator in avoiding the accident. If product liability principles were at the forefront, such as the automated features of the autonomous vehicle not sensing that a person was near, then Uber as well as the manufacturer could be assigned blame. Also, there’s the possibility of the victim being found to be partially at fault if her presence was concealed by the darkness when walking out onto the road. It is most unlikely, but she could take the full blame if her actions made the accident “unavoidable.”
In Hertzberg‘s case, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies driverless car regulations Bryant Walker Smith was cited in an article on The Atlantic saying, “If the safety driver were negligent, then Uber could be vicariously negligent as an employer, but other decisions might be evaluated as well, including the decision to test or deploy the vehicle and the training provided to the operator.”
In the future manufacturers are most likely to be predominantly blamed over the operator or driver, according to Smith. He stated that self driving vehicles cause a shift from negligence on behalf of the vehicle to product liability. Product liability meaning that a company set forth a product that caused harm instead of fulfilling its purpose. The reasoning behind Smith’s statement is that if in the years to come, autonomous vehicles are being leased for hire or sold then the roles for people who are driving or riding in them will have changed. This transition would cause the legal liability to change too.
So far, the U.S. legal system has not been put to the test on a self driving car accident. Every crash involving an autonomous vehicle has settled outside of court.
If you or a loved one has been injured from a self driving car accident, then our Tampa accident attorneys can help. We are an experienced team of lawyers who will fight for your right to compensation. Contact us for a free consultation today or begin a live chat now.