The Challenges Of Litigating An Accident Lawsuit Involving A Driverless Vehicle

More and more companies are designing driverless vehicles, so it's only a matter of time before the streets are filled with cars and trucks that drive themselves. While many experts are hoping this will reduce the number of accidents that occur on the roadways, there have already been several crashes involving driverless vehicles owned and operated by at least one prominent tech company. Unlike crashes involving human drivers, litigating an auto accident involves additional elements that can significantly impact your ability to collect compensation for injuries. Here's what you need to know about suing for damages if you are hurt in an accident with a driverless vehicle.

Establishing Liability

Typically, the most challenging part of any accident case is establishing liability for the accident. In a regular accident between two humans, this often involves discussing their driving behavior, whether either party was distracted at the time of the accident, or if the road conditions contributed to the incident.

With driverless vehicles, there is the additional element of whether or not a computer error or malfunction caused the vehicle to behave in a way that caused the accident. Additionally, you'll have to establish whether the computer is solely responsible or if human error also had a hand in the crash.

For instance, a computer malfunction causes the vehicle to suddenly start drifting to the left. The person in the driver's seat tries to fix the problem by jerking the wheel to the right but overcorrects and sends the vehicle crashing into the car next to him or her. The accident could conceivably be pinned on both the computer and the human.

Establishing the computer's involvement in the accident will have a big impact on the type of lawsuit you'll need to file to get compensated for your injuries and losses.

Negligence or Product Liability

An accident where a human is solely at fault is typically litigated as a negligence case. In this type of case, you only have to establish

  • The person had a duty of care to you
  • The person violated that duty of care in some way
  • You were injured as a result of that violation
  • You sustained compensable damages

Essentially, you have to show that the person who caused the accident had a duty to drive responsibly, didn't do so, and caused an accident as a result, leading you to incur damages to your person or property. The evidence you need to prove your case is also pretty straightforward, often relying on a combination of state driving laws, witness testimony, and physical evidence.

On the other hand, if the computer in a driverless vehicle was solely responsible for the accident, then you may need to sue under product liability laws. This type of lawsuit is a little more complex because you have to prove the product (the driverless car) was defective because of

  • a manufacturing error (the vehicle came off the production line wrong)
  • a design error (the vehicle's design was flawed)
  • a failure to instruct/warn (the vehicle required special operating or had a dangerous quality that the manufacturer didn't advise you about)

You'll also have to establish that the computer error was the direct cause of the accident that lead to your injury, that you or the person driving the car was using it as intended, and that you suffered losses as a direct result of the defect.

Proving these issue elements in court may require the assistance of experts who can testify about the likely cause of the computer error. You may also need to subpoena design specs from the company to help prove your case, which may be next to impossible since the manufacturer may be unwilling to give out that information to protect its trade secrets.

Winning an accident case involving a driverless vehicle is not impossible, but it may require a little more effort and strategy on your part. Contact a personal injury attorney for assistance with building a viable case.