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Who Is Responsible for Self-Driving Car Accidents?

Posted on April 16, 2021 in Car Accidents

If you get into an accident involving a self-driving or autonomous vehicle, financial responsibility – known as liability in legalese – can be difficult to determine. Rather than only dealing with the other driver, you may also have to examine the potential liability of the auto manufacturer or software designer. It is critical to get the assistance of a qualified car accident attorney in Los Angeles with these complicated types of claims.

The Manufacturer for Design or Manufacturing Defects

Self-driving vehicles were designed for many reasons, including to improve safety. Autonomous vehicles are meant to eliminate human error – the number one cause of car accidents. Without the possibility of hazards such as drunk, reckless or distracted drivers, the number of auto accidents should drop.

Unfortunately, the self-driving vehicle industry has issues of its own that can contribute to auto accidents. Two of these issues are software glitches and design defects. The first pedestrian death from a self-driving car accident occurred in part due to a malfunction with the vehicle’s sensor, in which it failed to detect a pedestrian crossing the road and apply the brakes in time to avoid a collision.

If a self-driving car accident traces back to a system error or software malfunction, the designer or manufacturer of the software may be liable for damages. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure the reasonable safety of its equipment and technology. If any part of the vehicle contains a defect and malfunctions, causing a car accident, the manufacturer could bear financial responsibility through the laws of product liability in California.

The Human Operator for Negligence

Currently, most autonomous vehicles are not 100 percent self-driving. They still require supervision and intervention from human operators. When driving an autonomous vehicle, a driver still has a responsibility to pay attention to the road, heed any warnings given by the vehicle’s software and take over control of the car in hazardous situations.

If a self-driving vehicle flashes a warning for the driver to take control of the wheel due to dangerous road conditions, for example, failing to do so could make the driver liable for a related crash. Any type of operator error, including failing to intervene when the autonomous technology is malfunctioning, could place liability with the person behind the wheel rather than the vehicle manufacturer.

The Government for Lax Test-Driving Oversight

Several serious and fatal self-driving car accidents have taken place while the manufacturer was testing the technology on public roads. The state or local government where these collisions occurred may be liable for damages for negligently failing to regulate the tests in a way that would ensure public safety. If testing a self-driving vehicle exposed the public to an unreasonable risk of harm, the government agency that allowed the test could be legally responsible.

Cases against the government are unique in California. They come with different laws compared to cases against other parties under the California Tort Claims Act. For example, you must file a claim against the government within six months of the crash, while the deadline on a typical car accident claim is two years. A lawyer can help you navigate the unique rules of this type of case.

How To Determine Liability for a Self-Driving Car Accident

Self-driving vehicles come with new and complicated questions of liability. Many different parties play a role in ensuring the safety of self-driving or autonomous cars. This can lead to trouble identifying the correct defendant, or a case that involves multiple defendants. It is important to understand liability, however, if you wish to recover fair financial compensation after a self-driving car accident in California.

If you or a loved one was injured in a self-driving car accident in Los Angeles, consult with an attorney for assistance determining liability. An attorney can revisit the scene of your car accident, collect evidence, interview eyewitnesses, investigate the manufacturing company, analyze the vehicle’s software, hire qualified experts and take other steps to determine the cause of your crash. Then, your attorney can help you go up against the correct defendant(s) in pursuit of justice and financial compensation.

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