A Brave New World for Accident Litigation? (Pt. 2 of 3)

In part one of this three-part blog entry on the fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving car, we looked at the basic story and introduced some of the concerns. In this installment, we’re going to look at some of the legal ramifications of this case, especially concerning what type of case this should be and the relevant liability rules as they would apply in Tennessee.

Part of what makes this case so interesting is that it covers relatively new legal ground. As discussed in our last blog post, this is the first fatality involving an automated motor vehicle. Is the person in the car working for Uber ultimately responsible for the accident? Or should this be considered a technical malfunction and not the driver’s fault? These are just a few of the questions raised by this case.

What Type of Case is This?

Often one of the most important tasks for a personal injury lawyer is determining the right approach for a legal claim early on in the process. Some accidents are clearly the fault of the driver, resulting from user error. Other cases are more likely to proceed more like a product liability claim, as in instances of brake failure, for example. Also, many cases involve both negligence claims against the driver and a product liability action against a company involved with the car’s production.

In these self-driving vehicle cases, the courts have yet to determine whether the “driver” or the manufacturer should be held liable for the damages incurred from an accident. Our current case settled before we could get an answer to that question.

Who Is Liable?

This is the big question that needs answering: In general, should the person in the car be held liable for this type of accident or should it fall on the manufacturers?

The literature put out by autonomous vehicle manufacturers is clear that the person in the car should always be attentive even when the car is on full auto-pilot. But of course they would say that. Their interest right from the start would be to avoid any liability for the eventual accidents that could occur.

This question will also need to wait, as the case settled out of court before we could get any answers.

In the next blog post in this series, we will consider whether Uber’s settlement was a good strategy and examine some of these issues and rules more closely. In the meantime, if you are in an accident with an automated vehicle, call my law firm. We know how to win accident claims.

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