Who is Liable When a Self-Driving Car Crashes?
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    Who is Liable When a Self-Driving Car Crashes?

    The promise and predictions of flying cars à la The Jetsons or Back to the Future, have long since receded into the historical rearview mirror. Today the cars of the future are not promised to fly through the skies thereby eliminating traffic jams, but to be fully autonomous vehicles that take the control out of fallible human hands.

    Automobile manufacturers claim that self-driving cars will reduce traffic while increasing highway safety. Some manufacturers, like Volvo, go so far as to claim that they will produce an injury-free car by 2020. While such proclamations are aspirational and certainly good for business, it is probably not achievable as even the best systems can fail due to programming errors or mechanical failures. If you suffered a crash involving a self-driving car, then our legal team can help determine who is at fault.

    Seek support from our experienced Philadelphia car accident attorneys at the Reiff Law Firm by dialing (215) 709-6940 to evaluate your potential claim for free.

    Safety Systems of the Future: Coming Soon?

    Before full-fledge autonomous cars are introduced, elements of the systems that will one day constitute a fully autonomous system appear likely to continue to be introduced piecemeal. Some technologies have already been introduced in full, or part, that include:

    Active GPS Safety Features

    Perhaps as transitionary technology intended to ease drivers into the idea of vehicles being aware of their surrounds, the application of GPS technology may be expanded. It may issue warnings that a sharp curve is ahead, or that your speed is unsafe for this stretch of roadway. Some aspects of this technology have already been incorporated into smartphone GPS applications like Waze that warns of road hazards, stopped vehicles, traffic and police activity.

    Cars that “Talk”

    We have all had a close call: you approach an intersection on a green light only for a car to speed through nearly causing a T-bone accident. Now, imagine if your car could communicate with other vehicles wirelessly and warn you (and the other driver) of the other vehicle’s approach. Perhaps eventually the vehicles would avoid the collision without any intervention from the driver.

    Forward-Collision Avoidance

    Already appearing in luxury and other high-end automobiles, the vehicle may apply its brakes when it detects a vehicle in front of it. Such systems can reduce fender-benders due to distractions in stop-and-go traffic.

    Lane-Assist Features

    When fatigue sets in, it’s common for drivers to swerve or otherwise have difficulty maintaining their lane. Utilizing cameras and software systems cars are able to assist a driver in remaining in their lane. This moderate assist likely foreshadows the human driver ceding increased control to automated systems as the technology improves.

    Okay, But Who is Liable for the Accident?

    The short story is that it depends on how these systems develop including the extent of the systems installed, how the driver interacts with them and amount of control ceded to the system. These factors and more are likely to influence the form of liability decided upon by regulators and lawmakers. Potential forms of accident liability could include:

    Manufacturer Liability

    In a scenario where the driver cedes all control of the vehicle to automated systems, it is not a stretch to think that lawmakers may compel manufacturers to assume liability for their vehicles. However it is also quite conceivable that vehicle manufacturers may take a page out of the NRA’s, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, playbook and require some degree of human monitoring, interaction and control in vehicles. Such limited control may forestall attempts to shift liability as manufacturers will be able to plausibly deny at least some degree of liability.

    Driver Liability

    Should vehicles require human control in an emergency or other situations, it is possible a system similar to Pennsylvania’s current no-fault liability insurance system will be implemented.

    In any case, the improvements to and more widespread deployment of accident reporting systems or “black boxes”, is likely to take much of the guesswork out of determining accident liability. No longer will determinations be dependent on the fallibilities of human memory and the specialized knowledge of accident reconstruction experts. As the volume of accidents decreases and costs of administering claims fail, claims should be processed more quickly and the cost to insure vehicles will hopefully fall in proportion.

    Examples of When Manufacturers are Liable for Crashes Involving Self-Driving Cars

    There are multiple examples of situations where manufacturers are liable for crashes involving self-driving cars. Our Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers can help obtain compensation if your collision stems from any of the following potential sources:

    Sensor Malfunction

    Self-driving cars are equipped with sensors that are responsible for detecting obstacles and pedestrians. A manufacturer may be liable for an accident that occurs because of a self-driving car’s sensor malfunction. For instance, a malfunctioning sensor may cause a collision by failing to detect a pedestrian crossing a road. In that case, the victim could sue the self-driving vehicle’s manufacturer for the damages the accident caused.

    Software Glitch

    Furthermore, you may be able to sue a self-driving car’s manufacturer if your collision happened as the result of a software glitch. As an example, a programming error in a vehicle’s software may cause the car to misinterpret traffic signals, leading to an intersection accident. In this situation, the manufacturer may be held liable for victim’s injuries.

    Inadequate Cybersecurity Measures

    Self-driving cars have connectivity features that allow them to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure systems. However, inadequate cybersecurity measures may allow hackers to gain unauthorized access to your car’s control system and manipulate its actions, resulting in an accident. If your crash happened because a self-driving car was not equipped with adequate cybersecurity, then you may sue the vehicle’s manufacturer.

    Examples of Evidence Used to Establish Liability for a Self-Driving Car Crash

    In order to recover damages for injuries caused by a self-driving car crash, you must present evidence that proves the defendant in your case is at fault. The following are all examples of evidence that our Chester County car accident lawyers may utilize:

    Data from the Autonomous Vehicle

    Self-driving cars are equipped with various sensors, cameras, and other technologies that collect data during operation. This data can include information on the vehicle’s speed, direction, braking patterns, and responses to certain events. Analyzing this data can provide insights into the failures of a self-driving system.

    Event Data Recorder (EDR) Information

    Similar to black boxes in airplanes, some self-driving cars are equipped with event data recorders that capture crucial information leading up to and during an accident. EDR data may include details such as vehicle speed, throttle position, steering angles, and engagement of safety systems. Retrieving and analyzing this data can help reconstruct the events leading to the crash.

    Maintenance and Diagnostic Records

    Maintenance and diagnostic records of the self-driving car can provide insights into whether the vehicle was properly maintained and functioning correctly at the time of the accident. Any history of malfunctions, repairs, or software updates may be relevant in determining liability.

    Eyewitness Testimony

    Eyewitness testimony can be very helpful when seeking to establish fault for your self-driving car accident. Witnesses who observed your crash may provide both written and oral statements that help establish how or why your accident occurred. Accordingly, you should always attempt to retrieve contact information from potential eyewitnesses in the immediate aftermath of your collision if you can. Afterwards, our team can help when reaching out for the witnesses’ potential cooperation.

    Expert Witness Testimony

    Expert witness testimony can also help establish fault for a self-driving car accident. These types of witnesses are considered experts because they have completed the necessary training, education, and experience in their specific fields. They are usually summoned to explain complicated theories of fault. For example, after a self-driving car accident, an engineer who specializes in designing self-driving cars may be summoned to explain why the vehicle at issue malfunctioned.

    Private Surveillance Footage

    Private surveillance footage can also be presented to establish fault for a self-driving car accident. There are several potential sources of relevant surveillance footage. For instance, a nearby driver’s dashboard camera may record the events leading up to a self-driving car accident. Further, a home’s doorbell camera may capture a crash that occurs in a residential neighborhood.

    Parties in control of pertinent surveillance footage may not store the footage for very long. It is important you begin looking for such evidence as quickly as possible after your self-driving car crash.

    Photos from the Scene

    Finally, photos from the scene of your self-driving car crash may also help identify contributing factors. You should always attempt to take photos at the scene of your accident if you can. Afterwards, our team can help analyze any photos you took during your free case review.

    What if You Share Fault for a Collision with a Self-Driving Car?

    There are certain situations where drivers may share fault for their collisions with self-driving cars. For instance, fault may be shared for a collision in which a speeding driver was struck by a self-driving car that made an improper lane change. In that case, the speeding driver may still collect compensation for their injuries, but the amount of payment they are awarded can be limited.

    Pennsylvania courts will abide by the rules of modified comparative fault when assigning damages in car accident cases. This means that damages are apportioned based on each party’s percentage of blame. For instance, if you are 30% responsible for your crash while the defendant is 70% at fault, then they will be ordered to pay for 70% of the damages you incurred while you must account for the leftover 30% on your own. It is important to note that if you are over 50% at fault for your crash, then you will be unable to recover financial compensation from another party.

    After a collision with a self-driving car, the at-fault party may try to shift blame onto you in order to avoid paying for the damages you suffered. Assistance from our legal team can be very valuable when gathering evidence to prove that the defendant in your case is at fault.

    Call Our Attorneys for Help After an Accident Involving a Self-Driving Car

    As technology advances, the law must also adapt and change to provide fundamental fairness and sound public policy. At The Reiff Law Firm we have provided dependable and trusted legal representation for more than 34 years. For your free assessment call (215) 709-6940 or contact us online.

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