Fully autonomous, self-driving cars once sounded more like the premise for a science fiction movie than a real-life scenario – but as 2020 begins, it’s looking more and more likely that drivers will be replaced by self-driving vehicles. While proponents for self-driving cars claim that they will be much safer than cars with human drivers, it’s important to consider who will be held liable for accidents when the roads are controlled by machine intelligence rather than human beings.
It’s inevitable that as self-driving cars become more popular, we will likely see a massive change in the legal landscape to accompany this technological trend. It’s possible that there may be fewer motor vehicle accidents overall – but it’s likely that there will be an increased number of accidents caused by automobile product defects, instead of simple driver error.
Car Accident Lawsuits vs. Auto Defect Cases
Motor vehicle crashes are currently the primary cause of injury in the United States, with over 2.5 million Americans sent to the emergency department for accidents each year. Because car accidents have become so commonplace in modern life, all states require drivers to carry valid insurance while operating a vehicle on the road, which limits the number of personal injury lawsuits brought before the court system. However, the mandatory insurance limits in most states are rarely enough to cover drivers who sustain life-altering, catastrophic injuries.
When drivers sustain such serious injuries, they could be eligible to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the “at-fault” driver, to cover the costs of medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages. Although each state has their own approach to determining fault in a car accident case, these lawsuits are ultimately determined based on the principle of negligence. If a driver has broken the law or otherwise violated their “duty of care” to the plaintiff, they can be ruled liable for injuries.
In a product liability or defective product case, however, the legal process is a little more complicated. Instead of suing another driver or working with an insurance company, plaintiffs in an auto defect case could be suing many parties all at once – or a single large automobile corporation with plenty of legal resources.
Defective product cases also tend to follow the principle of “strict liability,” meaning that the plaintiff does not necessarily have to show that negligence took place. Instead, plaintiffs have to show that the product contained an obviously dangerous hazard and that either the seller, manufacturer, or distributor knew that the hazard existed beforehand.
How Will Self-Driving Cars Cause More Defective Product Claims?
When it comes to self-driving cars, it’s clear to see why defective product cases could end up defining the future legal landscape. Without human involvement, car accident victims will not have the chance to seek compensation from insurance companies or at-fault drivers, and the concept of driver negligence will become somewhat irrelevant. Rather, victims will need to show that some specific feature of the self-driving car was defective at the time of their crash.
According to self-driving car advocates, the roads will still become much better once we eliminate human error, even if the alternative hasn’t been perfected yet. A 2017 study by the RAND Corporation found that as long as self-driving cars are 10% safer than the average human driver, deploying them will still save more lives than waiting until they are 75% or 95% safer.
At the same time, car manufacturers and sellers still have a powerful legal obligation to ensure that these vehicles are reasonably safe when sold to consumers. Too many families have already lost loved ones to the earliest attempts at self-driving cars. In one horrific recent case in Florida, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that Tesla’s Autopilot function was activated only 10 seconds before the Tesla crashed into a semi-truck, instantly killing its driver.
Offering Powerful Representation in Product Liability Cases
While the jury is still out on whether self-driving cars will help or hurt American drivers, our product liability attorneys at Robert Sparks Attorneys are ready for the upcoming changes to our legal process. Able to take on the most complex and challenging defective product cases, we aim to pursue justice for consumers affected by devastating crash injuries.
With decades of experience offering compassionate legal support for our clients, our award-winning trial attorneys hold ourselves to high ethical standards. Our team is listed among the best-of-best by Super LawyersÒ, National Trial Lawyers and US News & WorldReport, along with many other accolades over the years. If you’ve been injured – whether by human error or product defects – we can help you seek the compensation you need.It’s time to get serious. Call (813) 336-3348 to contact our legal team today.