Self-driving vehicles might be commonplace in the modern age, but that does not make them failsafe. Like all consumer products, self-driving cars can contain issues, defects, and hazards that make them unreasonably dangerous for operators and the public. Self-driving cars have already proven their potential risks with tragedies such as the first pedestrian death by a self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona. If a self-driving vehicle hits, injures or kills a pedestrian in Texas, it will most likely take a full investigation to determine fault and liability for damages.
Product Liability Laws and Self-Driving Vehicles
Texas’ product liability statute states that a manufacturer could be legally responsible for a dangerously designed, manufactured or marketed product if that product causes a consumer injury. Self-driving vehicles are no exceptions. If a self-driving car contains a defect that causes the vehicle to hit a pedestrian, the manufacturer of the vehicle and/or self-driving technology could be liable for the pedestrian’s damages. The plaintiff in this type of case, however, will have the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the vehicle contained a defect and that this defect was the producing cause of the injury or damage claimed.
- Defects in the self-driving car’s inherent design.
- Mistakes made during the manufacture of the vehicle or the installation of its parts.
- Errors in the instructions or lack of adequate warnings for known risks related to the self-driving vehicle.
- A breach of warranty by the self-driving vehicle’s manufacturer.
In the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving vehicle, the death of Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, the Uber vehicle failed to detect the pedestrian, who was walking her bicycle across the road. The vehicle did not stop or alert the human supervisor as to the pedestrian’s presence. Uber immediately suspended its tests in Arizona after the fatal accident, and Herzberg’s family filed a lawsuit against Uber for allegedly causing the death through equipment failure. Uber reached a nondisclosed settlement with the family shortly after the crash.
Who Is Liable?
When a self-driving car causes an accident, including one involving a pedestrian or bicyclist, multiple parties will investigate: the local police, insurance companies, lawyers and the manufacturer of the self-driving vehicle. Investigations will seek to determine the actual and proximate cause of the collision, such as a software glitch or product defect. The cause of the crash will then point to the identity of the defendant(s).
- Vehicle manufacturer. The manufacturer of the self-driving vehicle could be liable for a defect in the car’s design and/or production that contributed to the accident.
- Software or hardware technology vendor. If it was the autonomous software or hardware specifically at fault for the accident, the vendor that supplied the part could be liable.
- The vehicle operator. Most self-driving cars still have human operators supervising as backup. If the operator was negligent in properly supervising or controlling the vehicle, he or she could be at least partially responsible for a pedestrian collision.
- The pedestrian. The pedestrian could bear a portion of fault for jaywalking or crossing the road when it was illegal or unsafe to do so. Texas is a comparative negligence state, meaning partial fault under 51% will not bar a pedestrian from being able to recover damages.
The injured pedestrian or surviving family members of a deceased victim may be able to bring injury claims against one or more defendants for causing or failing to prevent a self-driving car accident in Texas. Multiple parties could be at fault depending on the details of the accident. The software company might be partially to blame for the failure to detect the pedestrian, for example, while the backup driver might also bear fault for not paying attention to the road or hitting the brakes on time. A plaintiff should hire a car accident lawyer in Dallas after a self-driving vehicle strikes a pedestrian for professional representation during this complicated type of lawsuit.