Who Can the Survivors of Self-Driving Uber Accident Victims Sue in Pennsylvania?

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On March 16, 2018, we learned of the first pedestrian death from an accident involving Uber’s self-driving cars.  For those unfamiliar with this program, Uber has been running tests of its self-driving cars in Tempe, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; San Francisco, CA; and Toronto, Canada over the past few years.  Though these and other self-driving cars have come under scrutiny before for accidents, this is the first reported pedestrian death from a self-driving Uber vehicle.

At this point, it is not clear what precisely occurred or who as at fault for the accident, but this incident raises serious questions about liability and safety for self-driving cars.  If an accident like this occurred under Pennsylvania law, who would the victim’s family be able to sue?  The Philadelphia car accident lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm explain some of Pennsylvania’s auto insurance rules and explain who might be responsible for an accident like this.

Who to Sue for a Self-Driving Car Accident Death in Pennsylvania

As of the writing of this article, we know that the accident occurred when a self-driving Uber struck a pedestrian in a crosswalk late at night.  It is unclear whether the accident occurred because the car was not able to identify the pedestrian in the low light, whether the pedestrian entered the crosswalk illegally, or whether there was time for a human driver to react to the conditions.  Regardless, we can make some general statements about how liability in such an Uber accident case would be handled if the crash had occurred in Pennsylvania.

First, PA law states that drivers must always yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.  This is meant to increase safety and awareness of pedestrians.  In many cities, pedestrians are the group that suffers the highest number of serious injuries and death, as compared to bikers in bicycle accidents or other drivers or passengers in a car crash.  That means that, unless there was no time to react to the pedestrian suddenly entering the intersection, under PA law, the car would have been required to yield.  If the pedestrian jumped out in front of the car, there may have been no way for the driver to react, whether it was a human driver or a self-driving car.

If the car caused the accident, then there are multiple parties the victim and their family may be able to sue.  First, every self-driving car in Uber’s test program has a safety driver behind the wheel, who should be ready to take over if there is a problem or malfunction.  This driver could disable the self-driving mechanisms and take over control of the car.  It does not appear, in this case, that the driver did take control – but the driver was still the person in the driver’s seat and may be responsible for the accident.

Additionally, Uber operates their own self-driving cars and hires safety drivers to ensure the car works properly.  Unlike a typical Uber accident where the driver is not an Uber employee, these safety/test drivers are likely Uber employees.  That means Uber may be responsible for their actions.  In many cases, you can sue an employer – e.g. Uber – for the negligence of its employees – e.g. the safety driver or the programmers who negligently programmed the self-driving mechanisms.

Suing for a Self-Driving Uber Accident in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, auto insurance is often confusing.  If you were driving when you were hit by a car, you may be limited in your ability to sue.  If your insurance has a “limited tort” option, you may only be able to sue in court for serious, permanent injuries or injuries that cost more than a certain level of total compensation.  However, with a “full tort” option, you may be able to take any car accident case straight to court rather than filing with your own insurance.

If you or a loved one was the victim of a car accident while traveling on foot, you do not need to worry about what your insurance says before suing in court.  In a pedestrian accident case in Philadelphia, you may sue the driver if you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or if a loved one was killed in a car accident.  This is because “full tort” or “limited tort” options only affect insured drivers and their passengers, not pedestrian victims.

If you face serious hospital bills because of an accident or now face burial costs and other effects from the loss of a loved one, you may be able to take the driver to court to seek compensation.  In a self-driving Uber accident, you may be able to sue the driver, the programmers, and Uber itself (as their employer) if the accident was their fault.

Our Philadelphia Uber Accident Injury Lawyers Can Help

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident involving an Uber, Lyft, or another ridesharing service or a self-driving car, contact a lawyer today.  The Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm are available for free consultations.  To schedule a free consultation on your case, call our law offices today at (215) 246-9000.

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