Self Driving Cars-Who is Responsible when there is a Crash?

The recent tragic death of a driver of a self driving Tesla has created another area of uncertainty in the litigation realm.  These cases appear unique and there are a handful that are being litigated around the United States.  I am not aware of any Oregon Cases where a vehicle on "auto pilot" caused a serious injury or death.  

RAW video and interviews from media event: Chairman on 30 Mile Highway Trip in Driverless Car Chairman Bill Shuster Will Join PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch in Self-Driving Car from Cranberry to Pittsburgh International Airport Washington, DC - Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) will join Barry Schoch, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, as Carnegie Mellon University¹s driverless 2011 Cadillac SRX transports them from surburban Cranberry to Pittsburgh International Airport.

These cases are unique products liability cases, because the cause of car crashes have historically been a driver's negligence.   Some vehicles have significant mechanical or electrical failures that have caused crashes, but the overwhelming majority of car crashes are caused by negligent humans behind the wheel.  Now this has all changed with the advent of the driver-less car.

Car companies are aware of this and the company Tesla is failing to concede its auto-pilot was the cause of a crash in Pennsylvania.  Instead, they have the typical response of "deny and deflect."  Tesla of course is denying it was the Tesla that caused the crash and Tesla is attempting to deflect the blame on the driver.   Tesla noted that "drivers are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain responsibility of the vehicle."

Tesla's instruction is what makes these cases interesting to legal geeks like myself.  This is a unique product that is marketed as "autopilot."  In reality, these vehicles are only partially self driving. The marketing coupled with the driver's expectations can create a sense of complacency for drivers.   Tesla must be aware of the driver's complacency.  However, what purpose does auto pilot serve if a driver still has to pay attention and keep their hands on the wheel?

Eventually an Oregon court will have to determine what legal theories are viable against certain defendants in failed autopilot car crashes.  Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers, and the various companies that designed and programmed the software might all be viable defendants.   Products Liability claims, Negligence claims, Contractual causes of action, and maybe even Fraud may be proper Claims for relief depending on the facts of a specific case.   These cases may also be suitable for a Class Actions where numerous consumers have a common issue.

In the mean time, consumers can only hope manufacturers and software engineers are able to fix the bugs and glitches.  These bugs and glitches can result serious injuries and death, so their is no excuse for them to take every effort to protect their consumers and other people driving on Oregon's roads and highways. 

If you or someone you know have been injured in a crash where a car with auto-pilot was involved, please call Portland, Oregon attorney Jeremiah Ross at 503.224.1658.  Ross Law LLC is always happy to provide free personal injury consultations.  Please remember that the law is constantly changing.  This blog article is intended to create awareness of the safety issues wit driver-less cars and is not intended to be legal advice.