With the rise of self-driving cars in today’s automotive sector, the question of potential liability in the event of an accident is now more pressing than ever. Before self-driving automobiles existed, the legal framework on car safety and the liability of car drivers, vehicle owners, as well as manufacturers for damages, injuries, or fatalities suffered in car accidents was rather clear. Given that self-driving vehicles are now an actuality, how's fault determined when an accident has been caused by a self-driving car? In this blog, we'll shed some light on finding liability in a self-driving car accident.

What are Self-driving Cars?

The terms self-driving and autonomous are frequently used interchangeably. They are, however, rather different. A self-driving vehicle can drive itself in most, if not all, scenarios — however, a human operator should always be there and prepared to take charge. A self-driving car can be classified as either a Level 3, where the driving automation is partial or a Level 4, where the car's driving automation is high. Unlike a Level 5 vehicle that's completely autonomous, these cars are restricted by geofencing.

An autonomous car, however, can sense its surroundings and operate without the need for human intervention. At no point is a human operator required to assume control of the car, and neither is a passenger needed to be on board. An autonomous vehicle is capable of going anywhere a regular car could go and accomplishing everything a skilled human operator can do.

Google and Uber are two major corporations that are now developing self-driving cars in California. Tesla, Ford, General Motors, and Volvo are among the companies that have also jumped on board.

Each of these organizations is actively developing or manufacturing self-driving cars to some capacity.

Although a fully autonomous car is still to be developed, many semi-autonomous vehicles are already being tested in California. As technology evolves, so does our way of life. Liability regulations have become increasingly crucial as self-driving vehicles become a reality.

Self-driving Car Laws in California

Legislators are scurrying to stay up with the tremendous advancements in automotive technology. The DMV has already established laws allowing all corporations developing autonomous cars to operate on public highways. Makers of self-driving cars can have 10 vehicles as well as 20 drivers registered for a fee each year, enabling them to operate the cars. There are, however, strict rules, such as:

  • When driving in public, an operator should always be seated in the driver's seat
  • The operator must always be capable of taking control of the vehicle
  • The maker is required to carry $5 million for liability coverage

Additionally, every driver should have held a valid driving license for at least three years, never have been involved in a car accident that resulted in bodily harm or death, never have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in the past ten years, and should have completed special driving courses.

In 2018, the legislation was passed to mandate that a self-driving vehicle could be backed by a "remote" driver. Several corporations have chosen to use cellular networks that link remote operators to their driverless cars, allowing them to "operate" using a steering wheel on their desks.

Nevertheless, since cellular networks aren't 100% reliable, these systems may have problems. They could fail occasionally, or they might have coverage gaps in particular regions. When they're slow, a lagged cell signal might be disastrous when drivers are required to make instant decisions.

Additionally, California's Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program was updated, permitting automakers to test self-driving cars with no need for a human operator in the vehicle. Currently, several manufacturers have already been authorized for deployment.

The California Vehicle Code mandates that the DMV create laws governing driverless car testing as well as public usage on the state's highways. The state has three types of permits for autonomous vehicles, each with its own set of restrictions. A manufacturer could apply for a:

  • Driverless testing permit
  • Testing permit that necessitates the presence of a driver
  • A permit for deployment

Manufacturers are required to follow strict monitoring and safety rules. Overall, there aren't many self-driving vehicles at the moment, however as technology advances and prices fall, this number is expected to soar.

Who Will Be Held Liable in the Event of a Self Driving Car Accident?

Most people feel that autonomous vehicles may increase road safety. However, many uncertainties

surround the vehicle safety of self-driving cars. Autonomous technology introduces new layers of possible risk. Whenever an accident occurs, it's obvious that many questions about liability arise. Who will be held liable in a driverless car accident?

If anything goes wrong in a typical vehicle accident, numerous parties may be held liable: the motorist, the auto manufacturer, another motorist, or the owner of the car. And even in such incidents, determining culpability can also be difficult.

Likewise, a variety of factors influence who is to blame in a car accident that involves a driverless or semi-autonomous car, such as when one or more cars break traffic regulations at the time of the accident. In an accident, however, culpability can also be assigned to many parties. When an accident is caused by more than one individual or entity, a jury might determine what percentage of blame each party bears.

Although the injured victim bears some of the guilt for an accident, the "comparative fault" in California statutes allows him or her to claim a portion of the damages. The majority of the time, negligence is usually the cause of a car accident.

When driving, motorists have a duty of reasonable care to other motorists, pedestrians, as well as other road users. Drivers must be aware of other cars, pedestrians, and also other potential hazards. Negligence occurs when a driver fails to employ reasonable caution when driving, resulting in road accidents.

During a self-driving accident, the following entities could be held liable for causing the accident:

  • The operator of the self-driving car
  • The operator of a regular car (not the self-driving car)
  • The auto manufacturers that built or designed the self-driving vehicle

When the Operator of a Partially Autonomous Vehicle is at Fault for the Accident

The majority of self-driving cars usually have a person in the driving seat. In most cases, driverless cars have a test operator to take instant control over the car in the event of a car emergency.

An "operator" is described in the State of California as "an individual who's seated where the driver should be seated or enables the autonomous system to operate if there's no one in the driver's seat."

Driverless cars must feature a safety warning system, according to California VC 38750, that will notify the driver when the autonomous system fails. The user should be capable of assuming complete control over the car, which includes using the:

  • Accelerator
  • Brake
  • Steering wheel

When the test operator fails to assume control during an emergency, he or she may be held responsible for any accident. Once the self-driving function is turned off or maybe the test operator overrides the automated function, the car can be driven like other regular vehicles.

When the Driver of a Regular Car Caused the Accident

The operator of a non-autonomous vehicle could be to blame for the collision. Even though the other car that was involved had been in the self-driving function, if an operator fails to exercise due care while operating and triggers the accident, that driver could be found responsible for the damages.

Drivers, especially self-driving cars, have a responsibility to keep an eye out for other road users, obstructions, and their vehicles. Motorists should also maintain control over their cars' movement and speed. Negligence could be proven by failing to employ reasonable care in the event of an accident.

Violations of traffic regulations might also be used to prove negligence. This includes the following:

  • Refusal to yield
  • Speeding
  • Driving while distracted
  • Failure to come to a stop at a traffic light
  • Operating a faulty car
  • Road rage
  • Driving when intoxicated

When the Self-driving Vehicle Company is Liable for the Accident

Software failures in automated operating systems have resulted in car accidents. Faults in driverless vehicles could be caused by a variety of factors, such as software faults, system malfunctions, or the inability to permit a human driver to assume control.

To handle speeds, braking, as well as steering, self-driving car technologies use cameras, radar, sensors, and advanced computing systems.

Anybody who develops, produces, or distributes a faulty product is legally accountable for any damage that will be caused by that item under the product liability statutes in California. This implies that an affected claimant just needs to establish that the item or product was unsafe and led to the accident.

The following categories of flaws could be involved in product culpability cases involving self-driving cars:

  • Defects in the manufacturing process
  • Defects in design
  • Failure to notify users about flaws

The autonomous vehicle company could be held accountable for damages if the incident had been caused by a defective product, design flaw, or failure to offer enough warnings for the intended use.

Some Questions About Accident Liability Remain Unanswered

A question that has yet to be answered is if the DMV would allow operators in self-driving cars to use their phones when the cars are in a non-hands-free state or when the car has been put on self-driving mode. If the Department of Motor Vehicles allows it, the operator in the accident who's taking selfies on social media while driving an autonomous car will very definitely face part or total blame for any accident that occurs and was not caused by another motorist or pedestrian.

If car buyers are uncertain how responsible they could be in the case of an accident when their self-driving car has been set to the self-driving function, insurance firms are much more uncertain about how to cover these risks. There are no records and no car accident records for self-driving cars to evaluate the probability of self-driving car crashes. Will you pay less or more for insurance when you buy a self-driving vehicle? Such concerns are yet to be addressed.

Compensation You Can Recover from a Self-driving Car Accident

During a personal injury claim, the victim seeks monetary compensation. Economic but also non-economic damages are included in the compensatory damages. The compensation is meant to place the sufferer in a situation similar to what they could have personally been in had the incident never happened.

In the event of an automobile accident that involves a self-driving car, the  damages might include:

  • Loss of income
  • Court fees
  • Medical costs
  • Lost limbs
  • Damage to the vehicle
  • Loss of future earnings
  • Trauma
  • Suffering and pain
  • Loss of consortium
  • Physical therapy
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Medical care in the future

In some situations, punitive damages could be available. Exemplary damages, often known as punitive damages, are possible in circumstances where the defendant has engaged in particularly atrocious behavior. In most cases, mere negligence is insufficient to justify claims for exemplary damages. Punitive damages, on the other hand, might be applicable if the accused's actions were malevolent, oppressive, excessively negligent, fraudulent, or deliberate.

Can the Family of a Victim File a Claim in a Fatal Self-driving Car Accident?

When someone has been killed in a crash involving a self-driving car, that person, unfortunately, has no recourse to hold the liable parties responsible. His or her family members, on the other hand, could be capable of bringing a wrongful death claim to ensure that those liable for the tragedy are held accountable.

In the State of California, only specific family members are eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim for compensation. This is only applicable to:

  • Domestic partners
  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Grandchildren (when the parents have passed away)
  • Anybody eligible to the victim's assets under California's intestate succession laws.

For a wrongful death claim, damages are offered to recompense the family members for the damages incurred as a result of the loss of a dear one. This includes the following:

  • Costs of burial
  • The costs of a funeral
  • Lost financial assistance that the victim would have offered
  • Lost support
  • Lost companionship
  • Lost affection

Proving Liability in a Self Driving Car Accident

As with any other automobile accident, every entity involved could have a unique recollection of what could have caused the crash. Accidents involving autonomous vehicles, on the other hand, can be more problematic because it's not always apparent whether the driverless car software or system was to blame.

Insurance companies and lawyers for both parties may need to investigate disputed vehicle accident claims. In a case involving a driverless car, the investigations may necessitate the involvement of experts to examine the accident facts and information to identify what the cause of the accident was.

A personal injury lawyer can help you analyze the situation and may consult with experts in the field. After that, the experts could provide their expert opinion regarding the accident's cause. In some cases, the expert may be asked to testify in court to clarify their findings to the case's jury.

Are Driverless Cars Safe?

Autonomous cars, like every other automobile, can end up causing accidents that lead to serious bodily harm or even fatalities. Self-driving cars have been on our roads for a brief duration compared to regular cars, and their numbers remain to be a smaller percentage of all cars today. However, there have been several accidents involving self-driving cars, some of which have resulted in fatalities.

Google says that self-driving cars could be much safer than human-driven cars, however, the NHTSA as well as other insurance companies remain skeptical. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is presently evaluating ways to address self-driving cars, intending to establish federal restrictions on the technology over the next couple of years.

There's also concern by the federal agency regarding allowing developers to show vehicle safety merely on performance – if they efficiently prevent crashes, maneuver safely around barriers, and properly handle the ever-changing situations that arise with driving. The NHTSA has yet to decide whether or not the underlying technology utilized in self-driving vehicles should be regulated as well.

Whenever self-driving vehicles are engaged in road accidents, car insurance providers across the country are already concerned about liability risks. Will the car's owner, or the maker, be held liable if a passenger, pedestrian, or any other driver is hurt in a self-driving car accident?

Find a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you or someone else has been hurt in a car accident involving a self-driving car, you need the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney to comb through the details surrounding the accident. Liability claims involving self-driving cars are far more complex than conventional car accidents. That’s why you need lawyers who are up-to-date with liability laws.

Our attorneys at the Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney will offer you the legal support you require to file your lawsuit. We will fight vigorously and assist you in obtaining the compensation you deserve. For a free no-obligation consultation, call us at 424-231-2013 today if you are in the Los Angeles area.