What to Know About Self-Driving Car Accidents

In the wake of the most recent autonomous car accident, where a woman was fatally struck by an autonomous car as she walked her bicycle through a crosswalk, questions regarding the legal ramifications of a self-driving car accident have been raised. Here, the car accident attorney Douglas C. Lauenstein explains what you should know about autonomous car accidents.

Autonomous Car Accidents are a Serious Risk

As autonomous cars become more common, so too do autonomous car accidents—and in fact, these vehicles may be even more likely to be involved in an accident. In a recent study, the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that autonomous cars are twice as likely to be involved in an accident as a standard car, regardless of whether a driver was at the wheel or not. Although the majority of autonomous car crashes that have occurred have not caused serious injuries, recently a woman walking her bicycle across a road in Tempe, Arizona was fatally struck by an autonomous Uber car. Although the autonomous car had a safety driver at the wheel, neither the driver nor the car’s lidar (light detecting and ranging) sensors noticed the woman quickly enough to avoid the collision.

Multiple Parties Could Be Considered at Fault in an Autonomous Car Crash

If an autonomous car is involved in an accident that causes the injury or death of an individual, multiple factors may determine who is considered to be at fault. These factors can include whether a human driver was at the wheel, the mode the car was being driven in (standard, partially or fully autonomous), the actions of other individuals involved in the accident, any defects present within the self-driving technology and more. Based on these factors, a human driver, the car manufacturer or the manufacturer or the car’s self-driving technology could be perceived to be at fault. In the case of the incident in Tempe, Arizona, the human driver, Uber, Volvo—the car’s manufacturer—and the manufacturers of the car’s self-driving technology are all potential defendants, should the victim’s estate choose to seek damages.

Contributory or Comparative Negligence Still Applies in Autonomous Car Crashes

It is important to remember that in the state of Maryland, the ability to sue for damages is limited by the legal theory of contributory negligence—this means that if both parties were even partially at fault for an accident, then neither party may successfully sue the other for damages. Contributory negligence still applies in the case of autonomous car accidents.

In the case of the Tempe, Arizona incident, comparative negligence would apply, as Arizona is a comparative negligence state—this means that fault is apportioned to each party based on their negligent actions, if applicable. If the pedestrian who was killed in Arizona is found to have been partially responsible for the incident, as well as the human driver, Uber, Volvo or any other party, each would be attributed a percentage of the fault, and may only collect a percentage of the total damage value.

The Legal Landscape is Adapting to Autonomous Car Accident Legalities

It is inevitable that autonomous car accidents will continue to occur, and so car accident attorneys must become versed in the legalities of such accidents. Ultimately, the laws that govern human-driven car accidents will largely still apply—retaining a lawyer experienced in car accident cases, regardless of the type of car involved, is still critical. Douglas C. Lauenstein has years of experience defending the rights of those involved in car accidents—if you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Douglas C. Lauenstein immediately for a free consultation.