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Self-Driving Vehicle Accidents May Raise New Legal Issues


July 14, 2021

The rapid evolution of self-driving cars poses a legal challenge as states and the federal government struggle to decide safety rules and liability principles that apply to collisions involving one or more self-driven vehicles.  When two human drivers crash into one another, the process of determining liability usually involves determining fault between the parties to the crash.  

As autonomous vehicles begin to populate our roads, the focus on liability in car accident lawsuits and insurance claims may shift from human error of drivers to mechanical failures and vehicle defects.  Some of the unique issues that must be addressed in these cases include:

Preservation of Evidence: The onboard computer systems in these cars will possess critical evidence regarding the cause of an accident.  Attorneys will have to take prompt action to ensure that data relevant to how the accident occurred does not become altered or deleted.  Delays in ensuring this evidence is preserved could severely impair the strength of an injury claim.

Product Liability: Claims will naturally focus more on issues of defective design, manufacture, and/or warnings/instructions regarding self-driving systems as opposed to driver error.  Despite this anticipated shift, vehicle owners still have a responsibility to act as a reasonably prudent persons under the facts and circumstances.  If the driver disables the speed control or ignores an unsafe maneuver by the vehicle navigation system, the driver still might be liable.

Hacker Caused Accidents: Many safety experts have warned of the possibility of car accidents caused by hackers infiltrating self-driving systems.  While hackers might be difficult to locate and identify, the manufacturer of the autonomous system software and the vehicle manufacturer could be liable for a failure to install sufficient electronic security.

Accidents with No Drivers: Eventually we may see collisions with no driver operating either vehicle.  Nonetheless, states are moving to create laws that require an adult licensed driver be in position to take control of the vehicle in an emergency.  Failure to remain alert and ready to take control of the vehicle when a malfunction or other problem occurs could be a basis for compensation from the owner of the vehicle.

Bugs/Corrupted Updates: Anyone with a computer knows that computer bugs can derail your experience.  Further, updates designed to patch issues can create new problems.  The company that provides these updates and the vehicle manufacturer could be liable when these bugs or updates play a substantial factor in causing a collision.

Regardless of whether you have been injured in an auto collision involving a traditional passenger car or an autonomous vehicle, you can protect your right to legal compensation by seeking prompt legal advice from an experienced car accident attorney.

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Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.