Who’s liable when autonomous cars are involved in accidents? | PropertyCasualty360

Who’s liable when autonomous cars are involved in accidents?OCT 10, 2017 | BY DAVID J. OBERLYEMAILLINKEDINTWITTERFACEBOOKGOOGLE+SHARE THIS STORYThe Tesla Model S is an electric car capable of operating fully autonomously. (Photo: P. Harman/PC360)Desktop computers. Mobile phones. Wi-Fi.Seemingly almost overnight, these advances in technology have fundamentally transformed the way society operates and functions on a daily basis.However, these and other modern technological developments may pale in comparison to the impact felt in connection with the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto our nation’s roadways.Today, the world’s leading car makers are racing to build fully autonomous vehicles. The goal for many is to have self-driving cars on the road by 2020. The benefits of this advanced technology will be significant, as autonomous vehicles will substantially reduce the number and severity of accidents caused by human error — the primary catalyst for the vast majority of current automobile accidents. However, the benefits will extend well beyond roadway safety to matters such as aiding in traffic congestion and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of transportation systems.The rise of this new technology brings an array of unique and thorny legal issues that will cause wholesale changes to many different areas of the law in the years to come. By far the most predominant legal issue concerning the advent of autonomous vehicles pertains to liability for accidents involving self-driving cars.Related: Tesla automation faulted by NTSB in 2016 fatal Florida crashRemoving human error from roadways doesn’t mean that accidents and the resulting litigation will no longer exist. (Photo: iStock)The shift to products liability lawHuman error is the predominant cause of automobile collisions today. Contrary to humans, however, autonomous vehicles don’t drink and drive, text and drive, or otherwise get distracted at the wheel. As autonomous vehicle technology becomes standard, there will be fewer negligent people on the road, which will negate the primary rationale underpinning motor vehicle accident litigation today — driver negligence.While the human error element may be removed from our roadways, it does not mean car crashes and related litigation will become a thing of the past. Rather, the type of litigation that arises out of car crashes will change. Instead of focusing on driver negligence, future litigation involving autonomous vehicles will focus on the safety of the self-driving vehicles involved in the collision.Accordingly, motor vehicle accident litigation will shift from driver negligence—and liability on the part of the operator—to products liability, making the automotive industry the principal responsible party for liability-related matters. Consequently, while vehicles and roadways become safer, vehicle manufacturers, technology manufacturers and other suppliers will almost certainly see their liability exposure increase considerably, with the autonomous automotive industry bearing a bigger slice of a smaller pie of total accident costs.Related: Crash test: An inside look at the Insurance Institute for Highway SafetyPhoto: Shutterstock4 keys to determining product liabilityProducts liability law has already been applied to many types of famous litigation involving automobiles, including the Ford Pinto’s fuel system, Takata air bags and Firestone tires. As such, existing liability frameworks exist to assist in resolving the legal issues that will arise in connection with autonomous vehicles.Fortunately, modern products liability law is adequately developed to allocate fault for injuries and damages stemming from autonomous vehicle accidents, which will allow litigants to utilize the current law to answer the question of whether an autonomous vehicle is at fault for a collision. Moving forward, the legal framework for autonomous vehicle accident liability will be segmented into strict product liability, breach of warranty liability, misrepresentation liability and negligence liability.Related: Autonomous vehicle technology could shrink auto insurance sector by 71%(Photo: Shutterstock) Products liability litigationStrict liability is the dominant legal theory in products liability litigation, and is thus poised to be the theory most consistently applied to autonomous vehicle accident litigation. Strict products liability requires that: (1) the product was defective when it left the manufacturer’s control; (2) the product was unreasonably dangerous; and (3) the defect was the proximate cause of the injuries.As automobiles become more autonomous, manufacturing defects will likely represent a large portion of defect claims, as errors on the production line will never vanish completely. Here, manufacturers can be found strictly liable for manufacturing defects even if they have exercised “all possible care” in manufacturing the vehicle. Similarly, the automobile industry will almost certainly see an upt

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