When cars become truly Self Driving, Plaintiff’s lawyers may be out of work on non-catastrophic injury car accident cases.. That is the general consensus among the trial lawyers that I have spoken with. This is an accurate statement for many of us because there is a responsible party in a crash between two self driving vehicles. The problem is, that responsible party is likely going to be a manufacturer of one of the two vehicles or a company providing components for one or the other vehicle.
This basically turns what is now a typical auto accident claim upside down. Currently, when a crash occurs and someone is injured, a determination is made as to percentages of fault, among all the drivers, and the injury claim is settled based on those percentages. In order to prove “fault” you simply have to show that the “rules of the road” that a typical driver understands and follows were violated or not followed in a particular situation. The party that failed to follow these well known “rules of the road” would have to pay money damages for injuries they cause. No expert witnesses or inspections of the vehicle are necessary to prove who ran the red light. You simply need eye witness testimony for that, or maybe even a camera with footage of a crash.
Once a car becomes “self driving”, the person sitting behind the steering wheel, if he is not in control of the vehicle, is not responsible for damages caused in a crash. To hold a party responsible, you must show they were in “control” of the vehicle when the crash occurred. As an example of this issue, if I owned a retail space but rented it out to someone else to run a yogurt shop and pay me rent, I would not be in “control” of the property so that I would not therefore be responsible for the way the store is maintained if someone slipped and fell in the store. The tenant is responsible if, for example, someone spills a drink on the floor that sits there for too long and you then fall and get hurt from slipping on it.
Just like a fall that happens when you are not in “control” of your property, if the vehicle is “self driving” it is just as if you were renting out your car to someone else to drive for you. If you are not in “control” of the driving decisions, and a computer is actually making those decisions for you, then it is the computer and it’s manufacturer, as well as the company that installed it in your car, as well as the car dealership, as well as the car manufacturer, as well as the component manufacturer for your car and for the other car involved that may all be responsible if you are injured in a crash. Experts in accident reconstruction and computer engineering will now be needed, along with a products design and product liability expert, just to bring a successful injury claim.
Unless there is a significant injury involved, most lawyers will never dedicate the time and money necessary to prosecute one of these claims. In the near future I can foresee many minor or non incapacitating car crash cases going by the wayside with many lawyers turning them down and not being willing to spend the time or money necessary to prove which product is liable or which machine is responsible for the crash. The machine in this case is a computer and now a jury or judge may have to decide which machine made the mistake. Don’t forget the possibility of a design flaw so we would also need to bring the engineers into the picture. I hope to be retired by the time we all have self driving cars. I give it 15 more years before we are ready to read a newspaper in the front seat while our car drives us from place to place. Until then, keep your eye on the road and your hands on the wheel. If you don’t, and a crash occurs, for at least another twenty years or so, you can reach me 24 hours a day by dialing 877-Gluck-Law.