When Self-Driving Cars Crash, Who's at Fault? Fennemore Craig Lawyer Marc Lamber Explains

Self-driving cars have been making news during 2016. Google has been pursuing this project diligently, as has Uber. Are self-driving cars just around the corner? Marc Lamber of the Fennemore Craig, P.C. law firm discusses the future, including legal issues, in this report.

Lamber says these autonomous cars are on the way. “Anyone who thinks automated vehicles are going away-they’re wrong.” Self-driving cars are not a fad; they are the future.

Marc Lamber

Marc Lamber

Automobile liability insurance may change substantially, or go away entirely, in the new world of driverless cars. If an automated vehicle causes and accident, Lamber explains, the manufacturer may be on the hook for damages. “It may be Google, or Tesla, or Uber.” However, driverless vehicles will also have some input from drivers, so the situation could become very confusing for someone injured in a collision and seeking damages from a negligent party. In a comparative fault state, a key question would be the percentage of fault for each party.

What about a situation, Lamber asks, where a car malfunctions, but the owner failed to upgrade the car’s software, resulting in a computer glitch? Who is at fault in this situation? It could be argued that everyone involved is at fault, including the car manufacturer and the software company. Of course, Lamber points out, that the cost of automobile liability insurance could drop dramatically if driverless cars work as well as their proponents hope.

Liability issues could still be tricky. For example, a driverless car may malfunction in a situation where the driver could have intervened to prevent the accident but failed to do so. There could a software problem, Lambert says. A vehicle component like the brakes or tires might fail. So there might be multiple parties who could all be at fault, bringing us back to the problem of determining percentage of fault. The percentage of fault is important in assessing the damages, and there are many different state laws to contend with. If a company sells a defective car that later causes an accident, the company will be on the hook for the damages from the accident.

Another issue will be whether their computers can be hacked. Lamber points out that today’s cars contain “black box” recorders that track all kinds of things in vehicles, including whether people in the car are wearing their seatbelts. When autonomous cars finally appear, the recorders in them will have more information than anything that has gone before. Lamber says that these new black boxes will also be communicating with other vehicles and traffic control devices. So an enormous amount of information will be available from these devices. Someone who can hack a black box like that could obtain a lot of information that might otherwise be private. “There’ll be less and less privacy associated with driving.”

From his perspective as a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, Lamber believes we are headed in the right direction, and that is to produce cars that will reduce injuries and save lives. “Every year,” Lamber notes, “there’s 1.2 million people that die associated with car accidents.” Eliminating these deaths would save about 3,000 lives every day.

Marc H. Lamber, a Martindale Hubbell AV Preeminent rated trial attorney (highest peer-review rating), specializes in plaintiffs’ catastrophic injury and wrongful death litigation. He formed the Plaintiff Personal Injury (PI) Practice at Fennemore Craig, P.C., and has spent the past 20 years developing it. He is the Chairperson of the PI Practice. The Sequence Media Financial Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.