Injured - The FindLaw Accident, Injury and Tort Law Blog

Who Is Liable in a Waymo Self-Driving Car Accident?

Waymo plans to offer driverless taxis in Phoenix by year's end, and currently has three dozen driverless cars on the road in Silicon Valley. So now that it's "game on" in the driverless car market, who is liable in the case that one of these driverless cars gets into an accident?

Who Do You Save? Passengers? Or Public?

It's an interesting legal riddle that has been batted around for years: a driverless car full of passengers drives down the street. A mom pushing a baby carriage enters the road. To avoid the family, the car must veer off the road and into a tree, injuring its passengers. What's the right decision? And who is liable?

There are multiple possible defendants here in a personal injury lawsuit. The car owner, the car manufacturer, the driverless software developer, and the family that entered the road, just to name the obvious few. And until a few cases are heard in court, it's difficult to say who will be liable. But some experts have provided insight.

Legal Pundits Base Arguments on Reasonableness

Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor, believes there will be a shift in blame from drivers to the automotive industry, and corresponding third party hardware and software developers. "To prove that an automated driving system performed unreasonably, an injured plaintiff would likely need to show either that a human driver would have done better or that another, actual or theoretical, automated driving system would have done better," Smith said. Seems like a reasonable argument, so to speak.

Car Manufacturers Think the Blame Will Shift to Them

Car manufacturers, on the other hand, think it will shift away from reasonableness, and more towards product liability. "It is really not that strange," said Anders Karrberg, vice president of government affairs at Volvo Car Corp. "Carmakers should take liability for any system in the car. So we have declared that if there is a malfunction to the [autonomous driving] system when operating autonomously, we would take the product liability." So there you have it from Volvo. They are ready to take the blame!

State Requires Automated System Manufacturer to Carry Insurance

It appears that states may think that liability lies with the automated system. Though Arizona has established no laws on the topic, in California, a company, like Waymo, that wants to be able to have driverless cars on the road must:

  • Demonstrate it has an insurance or a bond equal to $5 million
  • Have plans for police and first responders to interact with the car, when necessary.
  • Employ workers to help the vehicles out of trouble, remotely.
  • Have the ability to monitor the status of test vehicles and the passengers inside them from afar.
  • Comply with all federal rules about car design, or that it had received official exemption from the federal government.
  • Self-certify its vehicles could operate without a driver.

Language like this demonstrates that the state plans to allow victims to come after the manufacturers and developers of the automated system.

If you or someone you love is in an automobile accident involving a car operating while in an autonomous mode, contact a car accident attorney. The laws in every state are rapidly changing, with respect to what is legal, and who is liable. A seasoned veteran will be on top of local laws and current trends, and will be able to offer you the best legal roadmap for your particular situation.

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