Technology seems to advance at an ever-quickening pace, with new developments signaling a potentially radical change in driving, insurance, and personal injury law. While automotive tech presents amazing opportunities for safety improvements, liability and other legal obstacles are starting to appear on the horizon.
Self-Driving Cars and Personal Injury Liability
While self-driving cars have numerous benefits, increased safety is the most celebrated — and the most controversial. No system is perfect, and accidents on the road will occur. When an injury results from the actions of a driverless car, who is at fault? Possibilities include:
- The specific manufacturer of the vehicle
- The person sitting in the driver’s seat
- The software engineer
- The entire auto company
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently attempted to clarify the issue. They declared the car itself is considered the driver of an autonomous vehicle, even when a human operator is sitting in the driver’s seat.
Designating the autonomous vehicle as the driver raises a variety of potential legal complications. If the car itself is responsible for the accident, then the situation becomes a product liability issue. Injured parties could potentially seek damages from the manufacturer, not the individual sitting behind the wheel.
Additionally, self-driving cars will likely change how insurance companies price and sell policies. The definition of what’s considered a “driver” could even change. While personal insurance policies are almost certainly not going away, what they cover, and how they provide that coverage, might look significantly different as driverless cars grow in popularity.
Current Technology Already Influencing Legal Issues
A focus on the future is necessary, but it’s also important not to underestimate the impact of technology today.
For example, dash cams are commonplace now, but their introduction radically altered the ability to prove or disprove liability following an accident. They’ve shown such effectiveness in protecting drivers from lawsuits that many insurance companies now offer discounts for dash cam use.
Additionally, data comparison programs can help ascertain the extent of a person’s injuries following an accident. By looking at data related to similar injuries, in people of the same age and gender, attorneys can determine the appropriate settlement amount to seek.
In many cases, the defense will use expert testimony to potentially mitigate damages. A defense expert can claim the plaintiff’s injuries aren’t as serious as suggested in an attempt to reduce the settlement. However, comparison data can act as a powerful counterargument in the plaintiff’s favor.
The Importance of an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
In the aftermath of an automotive accident, more information is available today than ever before. Real-time footage, onboard computers, and other electronics can log a vehicle’s speed, direction, and much more. However, information gathering is only the start of determining fault in a legal proceeding.
“Technology is a powerful tool for a personal injury attorney, but it’s just that – a tool,” said Lin McCraw from McCraw Law Group “The outcome of your car accident case is still determined by your attorney’s ability to use the data collected effectively to prove fault and collect damages on your behalf.”
The road forward will undoubtedly have a few obstacles. As technological capabilities progress, federal and state governments will need to enact new laws and regulations to keep all drivers safe. Additionally, both insurance providers and personal injury attorneys will need to adapt to these changing circumstances.