Determining Liability in a Self-Driving Car Accident Lawsuit

Tags: , , ,
Determining Liability in a Self-Driving Car Accident Lawsuit Atlanta Georgia

When it comes to self-driving cars, it’s fair to say the emerging legal implications are as dynamic as the technology. Atlanta car accident attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates LLC recognize that these vehicles (not entirely autonomous yet, despite the name) have the potential to vastly alter the transportation landscape. The fact that it’s all so new makes determining liability in a self-driving car accident lawsuit more complex than in a “typical” crash case.

As self-driving vehicles become increasingly popular, this is likely to be an issue that drivers, crash victims, auto manufacturers, cities and courts will be more regularly grappling with over the next several years. 

Georgia an Early Supporter of Self-Driving Car Technology

Georgia was among the first states in the country to formally allow self-driving cars when it passed SB 219 two years ago. The law made autonomous vehicles street-legal in the state so long as they were covered with proper insurance and registration. Just last year, self-driving trucks made their first appearance in Atlanta.

The new law was a compromise. The original version would only have solely allowed auto makers the right to experiment with the new technology on Georgia roads. The measure that ultimately passed allowed tech and ridesharing firms like Waymo (a Google subsidiary), Lyft, and Uber to participate, too. 

At the time, just 50 self-driving cars were being tested in three U.S. cities. Now, according to TechCrunch, there are more than 1,400 self-driving passenger cars, trucks, and other vehicles currently being tested by more than 80 companies in 36 states. 

Supporters of the technology praise its potential for drastic reduction of the 40,000 fatal car accidents in the U.S. annually. Some argue it would do wonders to ease congestion – an ever-present headache in Atlanta.  

Serious questions have arisen about whether this technology is truly safe. 

As reported by the The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the first fatal self-driving vehicle crash reportedly occurred with a Tesla and a tractor-trailer in Florida in 2016. The autopilot feature was engaged, allowing the car’s smart system to control the vehicle’s direction and speed. Neither the driver (a U.S. Navy SEAL) nor the vehicle’s auto-sensors detected the white semi-truck approaching against a brightly-lit sky. 

Reported Self-Driving Car Accidents

Although it’s true that no two accidents – self-driving car or otherwise – are the exact same, some patterns have begun to emerge where autonomous vehicles are concerned. As reported by WIRED, rear-end collisions involving self-driving cars are overrepresented. The most common scenario involves the self-driving car in the front car and the human in control of the rear.

Of course, rear-end collisions are problematic for all types of vehicles, especially given the ongoing plague of distracted driving and particularly in stop-and-go traffic. But the high rate of rear-end crashes with self-driving cars has raised special concern.

As our Atlanta car accident lawyers explain, the occurrence of a rear-end crash generally creates a rebuttable presumption of fault by the driver in the rear. He or she is presumed at-fault unless they can present compelling evidence to the contrary. 

While data on self-driving vehicle crash causation from tech and auto manufacturers is limited, recent statistics from the California Department of Motor Vehicles indicate nearly 60 percent of autonomous vehicle crashes were rear-end collisions. Is there something about the operation of these vehicles that surprises or misleads the motorists behind them – something that might be used to rebut the presumption of fault by the rear driver? WIRED reported witness accounts indicating the self-driving cars were moving “herkily-jerkily” in the moments prior to some rear-end crashes. In some cases, the cars appeared to stop suddenly for no good reason.

There is also anecdotal evidence that some self-driving cars inaccurately gauge left turns, resulting in increased odds of a T-bone collision. The CDMV statistics indicate almost 30 percent of self-driving car crashes in that state involved a sideswipe. 

If there is evidence that some flaw in the design or manufacture of the vehicle itself caused or contributed to a crash, it’s possible your Georgia injury lawyer may have grounds to assert a product liability claim against an automaker or technology developer. 

Other Potential Defendants in Self-Driving Crash Lawsuits

Because these vehicles are not fully autonomous, requiring the person behind the wheel to remain alert and ready to regain control at a second’s notice, crash victims struck by self-driving cars can likely still file injury claims against the driver. Georgia is considered a modified comparative negligence state per O.C.G.A. 51-12-33. That means even if the person hurt in the crash was partially at-fault, he or she could still pursue damages from another negligent driver so long as the claimant isn’t 50 percent or more responsible. 

New laws may be on the horizon that could reduce liability for self-driving vehicle operators and developers. For instance, federal legislation is on the table that would force complaints arising from self-driving vehicle crash injuries to be resolved in private arbitration rather than in court. 

With no clear road map when it comes to pursuing damage claims for these injuries, it’s imperative that crash victims seek the advice of a well-established Atlanta injury law firm before deciding how to proceed. 

The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at steve@aa-legal.com.