Who is liable in a self-driving car accident varies on a case-by-case basis. As the Insurance Information Institute (III) points out, this is an area of the law that is still being explored and developed, so it’s not cut-and-dry.
The at-fault party may be the driver (since they are still responsible for the vehicle, even if they’re not driving it), but this is not always the case. Alternately, the driver may share responsibility with another party, such as the car manufacturer.
Who is Responsible When a Self-Driving Car Has an Accident?
Human error is the most common cause of car accidents, including those involving self-driving vehicles. Many careless human behaviors can lead to or contribute to an accident, including:
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Drowsy driving
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
While self-driving cars have the potential to reduce or eliminate accidents caused by such behavior, as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes, they are not advanced enough to do so just yet. This is why drivers of self-driving cars still have a vital role in keeping themselves and others safe on the road—and why they can and should be held responsible for negligent behavior.
Can I Sue Tesla if My Automated Feature Causes My Car to Crash?
You can sue a self-driving car manufacturer like Tesla if you can prove not only that a technical flaw caused the accident, but also that the manufacturer knew (or should have known) about the flaw and did nothing to fix it.
What Other Liable Parties are There?
In rare cases, someone other than the driver or the car manufacturer may play a role in causing a self-driving car accident. Consider the following scenarios:
- A government agency responsible for road safety receives notice that a traffic sign has been knocked over, but they do not take timely action to fix it.
- The self-driving car’s owner paid a mechanic to perform maintenance on the vehicle. The mechanic overlooked an obvious flaw and told the car owner everything was fine.
- A drunk driver swerved in front of a self-driving vehicle, causing it to lose control and hit someone else.
In these cases, the government agency, the mechanic, and the drunk driver may be responsible for a self-driving car accident. If you or your lawyer can find sufficient evidence implicating the at-fault party in your crash, you can seek compensation from their insurance company.
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If a Self-Driving Car Kills a Pedestrian, Who Will Be Legally Liable?
Again, the liable party depends on the exact circumstances of the accident. If a self-driving car kills a pedestrian, the liable party may be:
- A reckless driver who was not paying attention to the road
- A self-driving car manufacturer who sold a faulty product and/or did not recall a faulty product promptly
- A government agency that failed to maintain a safe roadway
In some cases, the pedestrian may be declared legally liable. Many states have something called contributory negligence laws. This means that if the victim is partly responsible for their injuries, the amount they can collect in compensation decreases.
For example, suppose a pedestrian was jaywalking or distracted by their cell phone when a car hit them. In that case, an insurance company may decide they were partly liable for the accident and reduce their payout accordingly.
What Happens if a Self-driving Car Hits Someone?
If a self-driving car hit you, you have the right to figure out who the liable party is and request compensation from them. You may have the same right if your loved one was killed in the crash, in which case you would file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
To build a self-driving car accident negligence case, you may find hiring a car accident lawyer helpful. They can:
- Investigate the accident to determine who the liable party is
- Calculate how much compensation the liable party owes you
- Negotiate with the liable party’s insurance company for fair compensation
- Answer all of your questions about how self-driving car accident cases work
Other tasks you should perform after a self-driving car hits you or a loved one include the following:
- Pull to the side of the road, if possible, while remaining close to the scene.
- Make sure everyone involved is safe.
- Call 911 if there are serious injuries.
- If your injuries are not as serious or you appear to be uninjured, schedule an appointment with your doctor just to be safe.
- Get the other driver’s contact information.
- Contact the police, wait for them to arrive, and provide accurate but brief answers to their questions.
Get Help with Your Self-Driving Car Accident Case
Isaacs & Isaacs Personal Injury Lawyers can help you figure out who is liable in your self-driving car accident and seek fair compensation. How liability works with self-driving cars is still somewhat an open question, so you may feel better having an attorney on your side to explain the law and manage your case on your behalf.