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Self-Driving Car Accidents

In 2016, the first fatality in a self-driving car accident occurred in Florida. The driver purchased a Tesla Model S sedan and frequently used its autopilot, or self-driving, functionality. The 40-year-old driver died in Florida after Tesla's cameras failed to distinguish the side of a large truck from the brightly lit sky. As a result, the Tesla failed to activate its brakes, and the driver collided with the tractor-trailer.

The driver was allegedly watching a movie in his car when the crash happened, and the force of the crash resulted in a snapped telephone pole a quarter mile past the original car accident site. The driver of the Tesla who died, had previously praised Tesla's autopilot system for preventing a crash when a commercial truck swerved into his lane on the freeway. Due to this accident and several others, people have been much warier about purchasing self-driving cars. Many vehicle manufacturers now provide warnings saying that their cars are not fully autonomous and that drivers must pay attention to the road to avoid a potential accident.

Who is Liable In A Self-Driving Car Accident?

Legal scholars across the country have been considering the consequences of self-driving car accidents in personal injury lawsuits. Should drivers who are using self-driving cars be held liable when their vehicle's technology causes the accident? Many legal experts suggest that when self-driving cars become more commonplace and affordable, victims of self-driving car accidents will start to bring product liability lawsuits, instead of personal injury lawsuits.

In a personal injury lawsuit, the victim claims that the negligent driver breached his or her duty of reasonable care and must pay the victim compensation for their injuries. In product liability lawsuits, the victim usually brings a suit against the manufacturer of the product, claiming that a defect in the product was to blame for their injuries. In most car accident cases, the victim claims that the other driver acted recklessly or negligently, causing the car accident that resulted in his/her injuries. However, when self-driving cars become more commonplace, and more accidents occur involving these types of cars, the question of who is liable will likely become more and more prevalent.

It is possible that we will see more victims claiming that Tesla and other manufacturers of self-driving vehicles should be held responsible when their vehicles are involved in accidents. Car manufacturers such as Tesla and Uber see the warning signs and have adjusted their policies accordingly. They now require a human operator to assist the self-driving vehicle. Doing so will provide the manufacturers with a possible legal defense, should one of their self-driving cars be involved in an accident.

The Importance of An Attorney

Determining liability in self-driving car accidents is a relatively new legal issue. Because car accidents involving self-driving vehicles can be complicated, victims need to hire an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help investigate the car accident and hirer outside experts to determine whether the technology of the self-driving car was the cause of the accident, or whether the accident was a result of human error.

As with any car accident, multiple parties may be liable. North Carolina follows the legal doctrine of contributory negligence when determining personal injury lawsuit cases. Contributory negligence requires that the plaintiff prove the defendant was 100% responsible for the accident in order to recover damages. Even if the defendant can only prove that the plaintiff was 1% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff may not be able to recover any compensation.

The following parties may be liable for the victim’s injuries after a self-driving car accident:

  • An inattentive or negligent pedestrian
  • The operator/driver of the self-driving car
  • The engineers who created the self-driving cars operating system
  • The automobile company that manufactures and retails the self-driving car
  • The marketing company responsible for advertisements of the self-driving car
  • Another driver on the road
  • The ride-sharing services company who employed the driver of the self-driving car
We Are Here To Help

As we begin to see more self-driving cars on the road, the issue of liability in these types of accidents may become more prevalent. The law can be slow to adapt to new technologies. For this reason, victims of self-driving car accidents should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss their case and make sure they are protected.

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our team of personal injury attorneys can evaluate the circumstances of your case and help you decide the best way to move forward. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation and learn how we can advocate for you. For your convenience and safety, we offer video and phone conferencing. If you prefer an in-person consultation, we have three easy to reach offices in Uptown Charlotte, Monroe and Mooresville.

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