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Self-Driving Car Accidents Raise Novel Liability Issues

Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles (AVs), are beginning to make their mark on our roadways. Currently, there are approximately 1,400 or more AVs operating in the U.S. without the need for human driver control. Additionally, numerous vehicles are equipped with partial automation systems, such as advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) that can manage steering, acceleration and braking under certain conditions. When these vehicles are involved in accidents, determining liability for damages can become quite complex.

Under current law, responsibility for an autonomous vehicle accident can fall on several parties:

  • Human operator — Many AVs on the market today require a human operator to be present and ready to take control if necessary. This “conditional automation” blends ADAS with artificial intelligence to navigate intricate situations. The human operator’s actions or lack thereof, such as failing to intervene when needed, could result in liability.
  • Vehicle manufacturer — Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their vehicles are safe and free of defects. If a hardware, software, or design flaw in the vehicle contributed to the accident, such as faulty sensors or software glitches causing unexpected behavior, the manufacturer could be held liable under product liability laws.
  • Technology designer — Companies that develop the self-driving technology also hold significant responsibility. If the accident was due to flaws in the software’s programming, inadequate safety measures, or a failure to anticipate certain road scenarios, the technology designer might be liable based on product liability or negligence. Proving such claims typically involves demonstrating that the technology did not meet established safety standards or contained inherent design flaws.
  • Other drivers, vehicles, and road hazards — As with any accident, other parties might be at fault in an AV crash. This can include drivers of other vehicles, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. Additionally, road hazards such as potholes or debris can contribute to causing an accident.

In some scenarios, multiple parties may share responsibility. For instance, if an accident results from a combination of a software malfunction and the human operator’s delayed response, both the technology designer and the operator could be found partially liable. Massachusetts follows a comparative negligence rule, allowing victims to recover damages from each defendant based on their degree of fault, as long as the victim is not more than 50 percent negligent.

As self-driving vehicles achieve higher levels of automation, the degree of fault attributable to the human operator may shift. This could lead to changes in insurance laws, potentially allowing victims to recover damages without needing to prove actual negligence. Until such changes occur, it is essential for victims to build a strong case demonstrating that human error contributed to the accident. An experienced Massachusetts automobile accident attorney can be invaluable in this effort.

The Massachusetts car accident lawyers at Feinberg & Alban PC help victims of car crashes throughout Greater Boston get the optimal compensation for their injuries. We are conveniently located at 2 Center Plaza, in the heart of Boston. Please call 617-232-5950 or contact us online to discuss your legal options in a free consultation.

Feinberg & Alban, P.C. fervently protects your rights
  • The Boston firm of Feinberg & Alban, P.C. specializes its practice in the area of personal injury.

    The attorneys serve the entire state of Massachusetts in addition to affiliating with lawyers in other states to handle cases outside of Massachusetts.

  • $7.7 Million Award for Feinberg & Alban Client in Personal Injury Trial

    Boston Attorneys Win Highest Injury Verdict in Massachusetts in 2011 & 2012.

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