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Asleep at the Wheel: How Trial Lawyers’ Heads are Buried in the Ground with Respect to Self-Driving Cars and Transportation Network Companies

Asleep at the Wheel: How Trial Lawyers’ Heads are Buried in the Ground with Respect to Self-Driving Cars and Transportation Network Companies

 

 

 

By Richard Newsome, Esq. & William C. Ourand, Esq.

Self-driving cars and transportation network companies will soon converge and bring about a paradigm shift of tectonic plate proportions for the auto industry, auto insurance industry, and lawyers who handle auto crash cases.  The industry is already preparing for the upcoming revolution, and is taking calculated political action to create a favorable legal framework and limit legal liability for the auto tort cases of tomorrow.  The Plaintiffs’ Bar, on the other hand, remains far behind, and is in real danger of being stuck with a horrible set of rules and regulations dreamed up by the industry.

This article will address the upcoming transportation revolution, will move on to discuss the industry’s political action, the Plaintiff Bar’s failure to keep up, and will conclude by offering suggestions for next steps. (more…)

NHTSA Reports Another Uptick in Traffic Fatalities: Will Advanced Technology be the Solution or Cause More Problems?

NHTSA Reports Another Uptick in Traffic Fatalities: Will Advanced Technology be the Solution or Cause More Problems?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), US traffic fatalities in the first half of 2016 (17,775) represented a 10.4% increase from those reported in the first half of 2015 (16,100).  The second quarter of 2016 was the seventh consecutive calendar quarter of increases compared to the prior year’s quarter.

What makes these statistics even more alarming is the fact that the 10.4% fatality rise in 2016’s first half far exceeded the 3.3% growth in vehicle miles during that same period.

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Autonomous Commercial Trucks Are Currently in Beta Testing: Update for Consumer Advocates & Attorneys

Autonomous Commercial Trucks Are Currently in Beta Testing: Update for Consumer Advocates & Attorneys

Last week was the 2016 Autonomous Vehicle Symposium in San Francisco where a host of companies attended and gave presentations about their newly developing autonomous vehicle or self-driving technology. One of the companies that presented at the Symposium was a trucking company called Peloton. Peloton makes technology that connects semi-trucks together while driving on the […]

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Autonomous Vehicles: New Rules and Guidelines

Autonomous Vehicles: New Rules and Guidelines

NHTSA says it will announce new guidelines for autonomous vehicles by the end of the summer. These guidelines may cause potential arguments for preemption, despite statements by industry and the NHTSA that liability should be decided by state courts.

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NHTSA’s Autonomous Car Guidelines: Top Ten Things We Learned This Week

NHTSA’s Autonomous Car Guidelines: Top Ten Things We Learned This Week

The recent first death of a driver in an autonomous Tesla brought self driving cars to the forefront of the national conversation. For months there has been widespread rumors in the media and throughout the auto industry that NHTSA is on the verge of issuing new guidelines for autonomous vehicles. Until now, at least for […]

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Self-Driving Vehicles and Federal Preemption

Self-Driving Vehicles and Federal Preemption

Yesterday, Tesla confirmed that the government is actively investigating the first reported fatality involving the company’s “auto-pilot” technology.  The fatal crash occurred on May 6 in Williston, Florida, claiming the life of former Navy SEAL Joshua Brown.  According to Tesla’s public statement about the crash, the car’s autopilot feature failed to notice the white side of a tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky.  As a result, the software failed to apply the brakes, and the car’s windshield struck the bottom of the trailer.

As we have previously written, “autonomous” or “self-driving” automotive technology has the capability to save lives, if implemented correctly.  A self-driving vehicle should theoretically perform better than a human driver if it operates according to a computer code that properly accounts for the surrounding environment and changes in traffic conditions.  However, when technology reaches the market before it is ready, software bugs and design flaws may go unnoticed until it is too late.  We’ve all had a computer crash unexpectedly.  Now imagine if that computer was supposed to be making the call as to when to apply the brakes during rush hour.

Well-developed negligence and strict products liability law already provide the best solution for those instances where self-driving technology fails and results in injury or death.  Under a negligence or strict liability theory, the manufacturer would be held accountable if a design defect caused or contributed to the crash.  The determination as to whether the software had a defect would, in turn, be made in the same manner that these kinds of determinations have always been made—by a civil jury.

Time and time again, the civil jury system has proven the best way to get to the truth in product defect cases.  Each and every automotive crash is unique, and the determination as to whether a product had a defect that played into a crash must necessarily be made only after carefully reviewing the circumstances of that particular crash.  The jury system allows for this type of case-by-case analysis to be conducted in open court, with each party having a fair opportunity to present their claims and defenses.

Unfortunately, auto manufacturers are now actively lobbying federal lawmakers to strip citizens of their rights to a jury trial should they find themselves in the same predicament as the Brown family.  Their weapon of choice in this regard is federal preemption.  Specifically, they are seeking what could be an often-times insurmountable defense whereby regulations implemented by Washington bureaucrats would forever trump the right of any individual citizen involved in a self-driving vehicle crash from seeking relief in the courts.

Earlier this year, the US Department of Transportation announced that it was working on guidance with respect to self-driving vehicle technology.  Since then, both the DOT and the Senate have held hearings in Washington to address the issue.  The DOT guidance is supposed to be released sometime this month.

Stay tuned.  We will continue to monitor and provide updates on the key legal and regulatory battles with respect to self-driving vehicles as they unfold.

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