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Automatic driving technology and the issue of liability, P.1

Automobile accidents can occur for a variety of reasons, from drunken driving, to distracted driving, fatigued driving, careless driving, and road rage. In any car accident, it is critical for the victims to seek out every appropriate avenue or compensation, including insurance claims, personal injury litigation, and even product liability litigation, when appropriate.

We are all familiar with the periodic news of automobile defects and the harm they have caused to motorists. It seems likely that such defects will always be around, and this is an important issue to consider when it comes to determining liability in accidents which involve self-driving vehicles. As automatic driving technology becomes more and more a standard feature in consumer motor vehicles, this issue is bound to come up and require attention in the legal system. 

Indeed, it already is coming up. For example, a fatal accident earlier this year in Florida involving a Tesla Model S vehicle in “autopilot” mode is raising the question of who should be held liable when semi-autonomous vehicles are involved in an accident. Tesla’s Model S, for those who don’t know, are full-size all-electric cars equipped with a camera mounted on the top of the windshield, forward-looking radar and ultrasonic acoustic technology which allow the cars to monitor for approaching obstacles in order to automatically avoid them. The system is considered semi-autonomous, though, rather than fully autonomous. Drivers must still pay attention to the operation of the vehicle.

Although no lawsuit has yet been filed in connection with the crash, experts have said that it is likely Tesla will eventually face product liability litigation over the crash. If it does, it will have to be determined whether the semi-automatic driving technology is defective, whether any defects factored into the crash, and whether the deceased driver followed Tesla’s instructions to monitor the operation of the vehicle.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic, including recent guidelines released by the federal government pertaining to automatic driving technology. 

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