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Page Updated 12/13/2021

Self-Driving Car Accident: Who Is Liable?


The world is slowly transitioning towards complete automation and having self-driving cars is one of those steps to achieving that. Although self-driving vehicles initially had a bad reputation, they slowly started to gain traction for the level of safety and security they offered to the car owner.

However, incidents of crashing self-driving vehicles started to surface with many questioning who is liable for self-driving car accidents.

What Happens When Self Driving Cars are Involved in an Accident?

  • Has a Self-driving Car Killed Anyone?
  • Who Is Liable for a Self Driving Car Collision Death or Serious Injury?
  • What Happens If a Self Driving Car Malfunctions?
  • Tesla at the Forefront of Legal Battles

If you’re in a self-driving car accident, contact Ehline Law and our experienced car accident attorneys today for legal representation.

Has a Self-driving Car Killed Anyone?

The first-ever pedestrian fatality that came from a self-driving vehicle was an accident involving a 49-year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg. The pedestrian was crossing Mill Avenue in Pheonix with her shopping bags when she got struck by a self-driving Uber car with a human safety driver, Ms. Rafael. Although the safety driver turned the steering wheel and pushed on the brakes to avoid the collision, it was too late for Elaine who got hit and died immediately.

This was the first pedestrian accident by a self-driving vehicle, which resulted in a ban on testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona ever since. There was a liability lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased.

However, Uber made a confidential settlement with the family to avoid legal issues. Ms. Rafael got charged with negligent homicide however, her trial has gotten delayed due to the complexities of the case.

Who Is Liable for a Self Driving Car Collision Death or Serious Injury?

Typically, driver’s negligence is almost always the cause of car accidents. Distracted driving and drunk driving are the leading cause of car accidents in the United States and come under negligence since the driver of the vehicle owes the duty of care.

A vehicle’s driver is responsible for exerting enough caution while on road to avoid any incidents that may involve pedestrians, cyclists, cars, or any objects.

When it comes to fully autonomous vehicles or even semi-autonomous, it can get difficult to determine who is at fault considering the vehicle is doing all the driving. To prove negligence and have a liability case, there must be a duty of care.

Vehicular Negligence or Product Liability?

Generally, the liability for accidents by an autonomous vehicle lies with the manufacturers. However, this creates a lot of complexities since GM (vehicle manufacturer) makes vehicles but Google simply provides the autonomous technology.

Many legal scholars argue that there is a shift from vehicular negligence towards product liability, but in the case of Uber, there is neither vehicular negligence since Ms. Rafael was driving and not driving at the same time nor product liability, as there was no sale of the autonomous product.

In a different interpretation, there can be a case for vehicular negligence if the safety driver was negligent, which could hold Uber responsible. However, there is a lot of ambiguity on this as well and there is no clear consensus on the matter until a legal precedent is set.

What Happens If a Self Driving Car Malfunctions?

There are more than 200 companies and startups focusing on automotive technology, which shows a trend towards an automotive revolution; however, such feats do come with challenges of their own. There are three different types of dangers that can occur if the self driving car malfunctions and these are as follows:

Autonomous vehicle accidents: Since an autonomous car does not read road signs and follow accordingly, this increases the risk for an autonomous car accident if there are any sudden changes like construction work with road signs or de-tours.

Hacking of autonomous cars: An autonomous car can easily get hacked leading to a personal information leak or even take the vehicle hostage by controlling it.

Radiation from autonomous cars: With so much wireless equipment within the car, it increases the chances of radiation upon constant exposure due to the electromagnetic field.

Tesla at the Forefront of Legal Battles

Many people know Tesla for its rapid advancements in the EV and autonomous market, however, Tesla has made it on the news multiple times for deaths, property damage, and more. In 2018, a passenger in a self-driving Tesla ended up dead after the vehicle crashed while the passenger was playing video games.

The National Transportation Safety Board argued that Tesla needs to ramp up its basic safety features and improve its self-autonomous capabilities. This was one of many Tesla autonomous car accidents which brought a lot of scrutiny on the US automaker.

Since the incident, Tesla has further improved the safety features and alerts to reduce the risks of any autonomous vehicle collisions. However, without any laws, it might be difficult to place legal responsibility upon autonomous car makers or autonomous technology leaders.

Contact Ehline Law in the Event of an Autonomous Vehicle Crash

If you got hurt due to an autonomous vehicle, contact us at (213) 596-9642 and get a free consultation with our expert car accident lawyer today!

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