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Don't Be In The Dark About Our Legal System

Hello, I'm Karla Mitchell. Going through a legal case can be very expensive and challenging. I won't go into details, but I recently underwent my own legal battle that lasted several years. It is finally over and I successfully received a settlement, but I had to spend so much time studying law in order to play my role in my own court case. While I found a great attorney at one point, I felt completely lost initially and I don't want anyone else to experience the same thing. So I decided to create this blog for those who would like to know more about law.


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Don't Be In The Dark About Our Legal System

Who's Responsible For An Accident If A Self-Driving Vehicle Fails?

by Andrew Martin

Tesla recently announced it has incorporated self-driving technology into its newer vehicles with the goal of allowing for automated driving in the future. Self-driving vehicles aren't new. In fact, Google uses them to collect data for its maps. However, it'll be the first time these types of vehicles will be available to the general public. Although self-driving vehicles are touted as helping reduce the risk of accidents, collisions are likely to still occur. The question then will be who is responsible for damages and losses? It depends on the circumstances of the case.

User Error vs. Manufacturer Defect

Liability for an accident will rest primarily on whether it occurred because of something the driver did (or failed to do) or a problem with the technology. For example, if you interfered with the vehicle's automatic controls (e.g. disengage a wire or installed a non-compatible app), then you could be held liable for a crash that occurs as a result.

On the other hand, vehicle problems stemming from the company's actions would result in it being held responsible for accidents. If a glitch in the car's programming causes the brakes to fail and you rear-end another vehicle as a result, for instance, the blame could be placed on the shoulders of the manufacturer. You and the victim could sue the company using product liability laws and collect compensation for damages by showing how the on-board computer program failed to stop the vehicle like it was supposed to.

However, even if the problem could be tied to the company, you may still be held at least partially liable for the accident. Drivers have a duty to use the roads in a safe manner and to keep their vehicles in road-worthy condition. Although the vehicle may be doing the actual driving, you still need to be aware of what's going on inside the car and on the road and take action if a problem presents itself. If you could have done something to prevent the accident from occurring, the court may assign partial liability to you. As a result, any award you are given by the court may be reduced by the percentage of liability assigned to you.

Legal Options for Obtaining Compensation

As noted previously, if the self-driving vehicle failed because of something the manufacturer did or didn't do, you can hold it responsible using product liability laws. These laws essentially state the product sold by the company was defective in some way, the company was responsible for the defect, and the defect caused compensable injuries and damages.

There are a couple of different legal theories under the product liability umbrella that can be used to get the company to pay restitution for its product's failure. The first is a breach of express or implied warranty. If the company guaranteed in writing a product would work a specific way or you can show there is an implied warranty that the self-driving vehicle was fit for the road, you may win the case by proving the company breached the warranty in some way.

For instance, if the company is selling a self-driving vehicle, there may be an implied warranty that the vehicle will drive safely on the road without human intervention. If the software is not programmed correctly, leading the vehicle to travel in traffic in an unsafe manner, then that may qualify as a breach of warranty.

The other legal theory is negligence. With this theory, you would have to show the company didn't take reasonable care to prevent the malfunction that lead to the accident. For example, if the company doesn't deploy a software patch that would have fixed a computer glitch that caused the accident, then this could be considered negligence by the court, because the company had a duty to fix the problem and didn't do so.

There are a couple of other ways a company could be held responsible for an accident involving a self-driving vehicle. Consult with an auto injury lawyer who can go over your options and help you put together a case that leads to the outcome you want.