Self-driving cars are no longer a science fiction pipe dream. In fact, if you have been to a major U.S. city lately, you have likely driven alongside one without noticing. There is no doubt that their invention is an engineering marvel, but it has opened a whole new can of worms: Are these cars vulnerable to hackers? How do motorists know these cars are safe? And who would be legally responsible for an accident?
The last question is the one that we at Karns & Kerrison hear the most about autonomous vehicles—and not only because we are lawyers. According to a 2020 survey by AAA, 6 in 10 Americans said they need some clarity on who would be legally responsible for an accident before they would take a self-driving car out on the road.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not simple. States have their own laws for how to handle human-operated motor vehicle accidents. Similarly, self-driving car laws also differ by state but to a greater degree, as many states have yet to pass any legislation regarding self-driving cars. Rhode Island is among these states. But if we take what we know about Rhode Island car accident law and apply it to self-driving car accidents, there are only two potential liable parties: the passenger in the self-driving car or the company that manufactured the self-driving car. The liable party will likely change on a case-by-case basis.
If a licensed driver was in the self-driving car at the time of the crash, then that driver could be considered negligent for not preventing the crash. In this case, they may be at least partially liable in the eyes of the law. On the other hand, if the underlying cause of the crash was an issue with the self-driving car itself (such as a software malfunction), then the manufacturer may be liable. It may also be held liable if it failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers of traveling in an autonomous vehicle.
In short, self-driving car accident cases present a complex problem, but current laws provide a good idea of how they will be handled. Each case will require thorough investigation, research, and legal and technical knowledge. If you have been injured in a self-driving car accident, you need an accomplished accident attorney on your side. Since 1974, Karns & Kerrison has advocated for the wrongly injured throughout Rhode Island. Call (888) 281-3100 or contact us online for a free consultation.