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GOOGLE SELF-DRIVING CAR RECORDS FIRST INJURY ACCIDENT: WHO IS LIABLE?

Human error was to blame for an injury accident involving a fleet of Google's self-drivingLexus sedans in July 2015, according to Chris Urmson, head of the Google program. The crash occurred at an intersection near the company's Mountain View, CA headquarters. The light was green, but since the Google cars had detected they could not cross without blocking the intersection, they remained in place. An apparently inattentive human driver read the green signal, but did not observe the stopped cars, and rear-ended the last vehicle in line.

Bad for the injured driver, but perhaps good for Google, which now has one more piece of data to highlight the human role in traffic accidents its program is attempting to combat. Urmson boasts, "Other drivers have hit us 14 times since the start of our project in 2009 (including 11 rear-enders), and not once has the self-driving car been the cause of the collision. Instead, the clear theme is human error and inattention."

Still, before these experimental cars can be released into the public, the questions must be asked, "Who would be liable for an accident caused by a self-driving car?" Probably, parties would not litigate such accidents as a regular negligence claim - the more likely theory isproducts liability, since the culprit would most likely be a defect in the car's computer programming. Potential defendants include:

  • Software designers - The software company would be strictly liable for any defect in the software that prompts the car to make an unsafe maneuver.
  • Manufacturers - Whoever installs the software or builds the interface would be strictly liable for any defects they introduce through their process.

Of course, anyone who owns a computer knows that software must be frequently updated. An owner of a self-driving car who failed to maintain the car promptly could still be liable under a negligence standard.

Until self-driving cars are widely available, our greatest threat on the road will still be inattentive human drivers. If one of them causes an accident, injuring you, take advantage of a free consultation with Rubin & Licatesi, P.C. To schedule an appointment, call us at 516-227-2662 or contact our Brooklyn office online.

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