Who’s At Fault When Driverless Cars Cause Injuries?

Would you purchase a driverless – or “autonomous” – car? While some driving enthusiasts may disdain the loss of human control, driverless cars are quickly becoming a reality. In California, a small fleet of Google’s autonomous vehicles hit the roads as far back as 2012:

And with the reality of driverless cars comes the reality of driverless car accidents. Experts are split on how much driverless cars will improve road safety in the long run (although many are very enthusiastic about the process), but while autonomous vehicles share the road with human-controlled cars, some interesting legal circumstances appear.

For instance, who is at fault when driverless cars get in accidents? Personal injury lawyers like Neinstein & Associates will tell you this is a tricky question. A recent blog post on the Ontario Injury Law blog addresses the issue:

Aside from feeling like George Jetson as driverless cars speed by you, there will likely be a fair bit of anxiety among other drivers on the road at first.  People will no doubt fear car accidents that could be caused by a malfunctioning computer in the driverless car or a change in road or weather conditions that the computer does not appreciate.  However, my bet is that computers are going to have less “malfunctions” behind the wheel leading to car accidents and injuries than humans do.

The issue will be what happens when driverless cars do cause accidents or are involved in accidents in some way?  In Ontario, you would normally sue the driver of the car, but would also sue the owner of the car who is typically responsible for an accident if a driver that they loaned the car to has an accident.  However, that does not always apply – ie: accidents that occur on private property may not always attract liability on the owner of the vehicle.  This could lead to the need for more detailed analysis by car accident lawyers, and personal injury lawyers in general, about how an accident was caused.

While it may be difficult to place the blame on any individual person, a recent Bloomberg article by Keith Naughton and Margaret Cronin Fisk explains that driverless cars actually present a host of possible new defendants in these cases:

Plaintiff’s lawyers are salivating at the prospects for big paydays from such accidents. If computers routinely crash, they say, then so will cars operated by them. And with no one behind the wheel, lawyers say they can go after almost anyone even remotely involved.

“You’re going to get a whole host of new defendants,” said Kevin Dean, who is suing General Motors Co. over its faulty ignition switches and Takata Corp. over air-bag failures. “Computer programmers, computer companies, designers of algorithms, Google, mapping companies, even states. It’s going to be very fertile ground for lawyers.”

By the time autonomous cars become the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road, car accidents may have dwindled to a handful per year.

Until that time, personal injury law firms like Neinstein & Associates can help injury victims navigate the unfamiliar waters of driverless car accidents.

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