Self-Driving Cars Lawsuit

Self-driving cars will soon revolutionize the concept of driving and car ownership. Though many of the changes they will bring about will be positive (potentially reducing the number of accidents, for example), they will also complicate our definitions of “driver” and make it difficult to determine who is at fault for accidents.

We are still a few years away from mass production, but autonomous cars have already allegedly caused two deaths. Laws and safety regulations concerning self-driving cars, however, are still very much in their infancy. With fleets of test cars currently on the road from California to Pittsburgh, and experts expecting that 2020 will see fully autonomous cars mass produced, legislation must catch up.

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U.S. Government Asks for Uniform Safety Regulations

Currently, only nine states have legislation concerning self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars are being manufactured faster than relevant laws can be enacted. Currently, only nine states have legislation concerning self-driving cars.

In an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Gazette, President Obama declared the federal government’s interest in self-driving cars. Though he emphasized that regulations would be flexible enough to accommodate the rapidly changing nature of these technologies, he also emphasized the importance of safety.

“If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road,” wrote the President. “We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”

The federal government is acting on their word and proposed the first Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The policy embodies the flexibility Obama hinted at in his op-ed and leaves the manufacturing of self-driving cars to companies.

“If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road,” wrote the President.

More importantly, the policy fills a need for uniform safety regulations, with a 15-point voluntary safety checklist that manufacturers should sign. In addition, the federal government will work with states to develop uniform safety laws for self-driving technology.

This commitment to safety comes after two deaths associated with the Tesla Model S.

Tesla Touts Safety of Model S Autopilot

Tesla_Model_S_digital_panelsTesla’s Model S autopilot feature is disabled by default: to turn it on, drivers must acknowledge that they will keep both hands on the wheel at all times. The software detects whether or not hands are on the wheel; if they aren’t, the car won’t start or will slow down (if already driving).

Tesla markets the safety of the autopilot feature on its website, saying that the technology “helps avoid collisions from the front and sides, and prevents the car from wandering off the road.” 

Tesla Autopilot Responsible for Fatal Crash in Florida

But in May 2016, the Model S autopilot failed to avoid a collision with an 18-wheeler in Florida. The car didn’t detect the truck because of its height and a glare from the bright sky. Joshua Brown, the Tesla owner, was killed. This is the first confirmed death caused by Tesla’s autopilot.

In September, Tesla issued a software update to Model S vehicles that improves its radar technology. Tesla believes this update would have prevented the accident in Florida. Unfortunately, the update comes far too late for Mr. Brown.

Man Files First Self-Driving Car Lawsuit in China

In July 2016, Gao Jubin filed the first lawsuit for the Model S autopilot in Beijing. His son, Gao Yaning, was killed when his Tesla Model S crashed in January. He filed a lawsuit against the Tesla dealer who sold his son the car, arguing that Tesla needs to be more cautious when marketing the autopilot feature and should let owners and potential buyers know that it has defects.

The lawsuit asks for a modest sum to cover damages ($1,500). It has not been confirmed whether or not the death of Gao Yaning was caused by the Model S autopilot. Regardless, this is sure to be the first of many lawsuits filed over self-driving technology.

Fight Back

Manufacturers Could Be Accountable for Self-Driving Car Accidents

These accidents raise the question of who exactly is at fault. Accidents involving the Tesla Model S are already more complex than typical car accidents, as both the driver and autopilot software have the ability to operate the vehicle.

google-self-driving-car-3-1024x576Completely autonomous cars—like those that Google is proposing—are a completely different matter, as car owners may be no more than passengers.

California and Michigan have taken the lead in self-driving car legislation, though they offer very different views on the issue. California drafted a rule that self-driving cars must have a licensed driver inside, threatening companies like Google that are trying to develop cars without steering wheels or pedals. Michigan, however, has proposed legislation that would no longer require a licensed driver inside an autonomous car.

Along a similar vein, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently recognized Google software as the “driver” in their self-driving cars. If a passenger lacks the ability to take over the wheel of their car, then we will likely see more cases of manufacturers at fault for automobile accidents.

What Can I Recover from a Lawsuit?

Though it’s too early to say exactly what form self-driving lawsuits will take, presumably they will bear a resemblance to other automobile lawsuits.

With that in mind, if you operated a car with self-driving technology engaged and it failed to prevent an accident or protect you, you could be entitled to compensation for the following:

  • Bodily injury and pain and suffering
  • Disability/physical impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages/impaired earning ability
  • Vehicle damage and other property damage

Contact Us attorneys have a successful track record with complex automobile litigation, including winning a verdict of $90 million against BMW. If you were in a car accident involving a self-driving car, you could be entitled to compensation. Contact us for a free, no-obligation case review.