Who is Responsible When a Self-Driving Car Causes an Accident?

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Who is Responsible When a Self-Driving Car Causes an Accident?

November 11, 2022
By Lafferty Gallagher Scott

There are two things you need to understand: There is no such thing as a self-driving car. The technology does not yet exist for fully autonomous vehicles. And, you are always responsible for your vehicle, even if you are not driving it.

The stakes for drivers are incredibly high. There have been at least two cases in which drivers caused fatal accidents while relying entirely on driver-assist technology. These drivers were subsequently charged with manslaughter. It is illegal for any driver not to pay attention to the road while allowing the driver-assist to assume control. You cannot blame the accident on Elon Musk. You would be found both civilly liable on the grounds of wrongful death and criminally liable for manslaughter.

In other words, you must not ever rely on driver-assist to do your navigating for you. 

Lawsuits Against Tesla

You are forgiven for wondering whether or not Tesla is also responsible for these accidents. The truth is that they are, but it would not matter if you caused the death of another individual while sitting in the backseat of your Tesla. The problem is a little tricky. First off, the owner’s manual of today’s Teslas warns drivers specifically against relying on “autonomous” driving or driving assist. While Tesla touts its “autonomous vehicles” in one breath, it also warns drivers against using it to navigate without also paying attention to the road. Some drivers have filed lawsuits against Tesla on the grounds that the marketing makes it seem like the vehicles can drive themselves. They can’t. While they are remarkable pieces of technology, they cannot make all the decisions a person can. They can assist a person in making those decisions. The jury is still out on whether or not Tesla is responsible for misleading drivers. However, when drivers are facing manslaughter charges, Tesla’s advertising terminology will not save them.

Understanding the Law

Who is responsible when you loan your car to your child, and they cause an accident? The answer is you. Ultimately, the insurance policy is attached to the vehicle. So, if the vehicle is involved in an accident, the owner is liable in terms of personal injury and tort law. However, the owner would not be guilty of criminal conduct. Those who allow their autonomous vehicles to cause accidents while they are not paying attention would be. That is because it is assumed that they should have known better. Further, you cannot incarcerate AI. 

While individuals who are injured by autonomous vehicles do file lawsuits against Tesla, it is more likely that they will file a claim directly on the other driver’s insurance policy. The suit against the driver should settle quickly, but a complicated product liability lawsuit against Tesla could also emerge. 

So, if you are the victim of a crash involving a Tesla autopilot, you may be able to sue both Tesla and the driver. If you are the driver, you may be sued by both the victim and face criminal charges from the state.

Talk to a Bowling Green Car Accident Lawyer Today

Lafferty, Gallagher, & Scott represent the interests of Ohio residents who have sustained injury due to traffic accidents. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help. 










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