Who is Liable for Injuries Caused by a Self-Driving Car?

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Last month, the family of a deceased California man filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla when the vehicle's self-driving systems failed to detect a concrete median, causing the vehicle to accelerate into the barrier. This incident is just one of many cases involving victims injured due to self-driving or "autonomous vehicles."

Tragedies like this raise important legal issues regarding responsibility for motor vehicle collisions. Who is at fault: the driver, the owner of the vehicle, or the manufacturer of the technology?

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has created a scale distinguishing between six levels of vehicle automation. Each level determines how involved a human is with the task of driving the vehicle:

Level 0 - No automation: The driver performs all driving tasks;

Level 1 - Driver Assistance: The vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some driving assist features may be part of the vehicle's design;

Level 2 - Partial Automation: The vehicle has some automated functions, such as cruise control, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task at all times;

Level 3 - Conditional Automation: The driver is a necessity, but not required to monitor their environment, but must be ready to take control of the vehicle at a moment's notice;

Level 4 - High Automation: The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions, and the driver may have the option of controlling the vehicle; and

Level 5 - Full Automation: the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions, and the driver may have the option of controlling the vehicle.

In a typical motor vehicle collision, the injured person must show that the other driver(s) acted negligently, perhaps because they were texting, and that negligence led to the crash. When a collision is caused by the equipment on the vehicle itself, the victim could make a product liability case, where responsibility may rest with the manufacturer of designer of the vehicle, or a particular aspect of the vehicle.

It remains to be seen how the NHTSA's scale will affect responsibility concerning automated vehicles and self-driving cars. At Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz, not only are we experienced in representing the victims of negligence and defective products, but we are closely following this new area of the law and the rapid changes it is undergoing. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a self-driving vehicle, call us today at 713-396-3964 or toll free at 1-800-594-4884 for a free consultation.

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