What Effect Will Self-Driving Cars Have on Product Liability?

With self-driving cars likely to hit the market in the next few years, many are wondering what effect they will have on product liability cases.

As Attorney James Stengel points out in a recent article for Entrepreneur, Waymo is just the latest company to be involved in a self-driving car crash, following incidents involving Uber and Tesla. Although self-driving car technology is supposed to make us safer, Stengel argues that even if this is the case, the advent of these vehicles could have a major impact on product liability law.

A lot of the question comes down to who is at fault. As accidents continue to rise, with 40,100 people dying from auto-related injuries in 2017 alone, many people are blaming technology, with distracted driving attributed as the main factor in this uptick. However, distracted driving also falls under the 90% of car accidents related to human error. Self-driving cars, unlike most technology, theoretically make human error a non-factor. This would put the liability on automakers and auto-suppliers—a responsibility that both parties are unlikely to want to take on.

Stengel argues that the United States is going to have to make a regulatory effort at the federal level to determine who is at fault as self-driving cars go mainstream in the next 10-20 years. As much of the fault is likely to be placed with software, tort law is going to have to shift to address the responsibility of the program developer. He also points out that there is a risk of hackers logging into self-driving cars and taking control, opening up yet another new field of product liability. While in theory all these concerns should go back to the manufacturer, the law is unlikely to see it that simply.

As Attorney Jack Garson writes in a piece for Forbes, “Under product liability law, manufacturers are liable when their ‘thinking’ machines cause harm — even if the company has the best of intentions and the harm is unforeseen.” However, product liability law is inherently more complicated than that, as Garson explains. “Another theory assigns liability where the perpetrator is reckless. Still another theory imposes criminal liability where the culprit intends to harm another — like the hacker who disables a pacemaker (a possible concern, but mostly a new Netflix genre).”

Many are confident that self-driving cars will upend the need for product liability cases dramatically, just as many are sure they will upend the need for auto insurance. Yet not everyone is so sure. Attorney Tiffany Y. Gruenberg theorizes at The National Law Review that self-driving cars may actually increase product liability cases. “No technology has a 100% fail-safe capability, and with the newness of self-driving cars, it is possible that all of the technology’s kinks and flaws have not yet been mitigated or predicted,” states Gruenberg. “With that being said, the self-driving cars while convenient do still have limitations, and it is important that customers do not put 100% of their trust into them.”

The Gilbert Law Group®: Fighting Product Liability and Auto Accident Cases

One thing which remains certain is that as long as there are cars on the road, there will be lawyers needed to defend injured drivers. As self-driving cars and other technologies come and go, our Denver product liability attorneys at The Gilbert Law Group® will be here to do just that. With years of experience representing clients in auto defect cases, our skilled litigators have a long track record of securing favorable results for client.

Call The Gilbert Law Group® today at (888) 711-5947, or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.


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