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Who Bears Legal Responsibility in Ridesharing Accidents Involving a Self-Driving Car?

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In recent months, it has become clear that companies like Uber are committed to the concept of self-driving cars. Still, Uber has at times had trouble proving the efficacy and safety of the concept, which was arguably most evident in a shocking Arizona accident in March of 2018.

In the Arizona accident, a 49-year-old pedestrian named Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle when Uber’s self-driving Volvo struck her while moving at a speed of approximately 40 miles per hour. The resulting crash killed Herzberg and raised significant legal questions about the future of self-driving cars and accident liability.

What made the accident especially tragic was the report released by Tempe, Arizona police. The report revealed that Uber’s “safety driver” — human drivers who are tasked with intervening in cases where self-driving cars are too slow to react or otherwise endanger passenger safety — was streaming a television show on Hulu at the time of the accident.

With an accident such as this one, legal questions abound. But according to the police report, the accident could have been avoided entirely if the safety driver had been paying attention to the road, not on the streaming show. On police video, the safety driver appeared to be looking down prior to the crash, which the safety driver indicated was based on paying attention to the self-driving car’s system interface. Now, it appears those statements were untruthful.

The accident in Tempe was the first fatal accident involving a fully self-driving vehicle, and as such, the legalities surrounding legal compensation for surviving loved ones is still uncharted territory.

Who Could Be Held Liable in Accidents Like the Tempe Self-Driving Car Incident?

While it remains to be seen how the law will evolve for self-driving car liability, it seems that the manufacturers of the self-driving car could certainly be found liable for manufacturing a self-driving vehicle that bears legal responsibility for an accident. In the case of this accident, the companies involved in the manufacturing of the self-driving vehicle would be Uber and Volvo. Authorities found, for example, that the self-driving Volvo did not alert operators of when to take control of the vehicle, which could be a problematic factual finding in a lawsuit.

In addition, it now appears that the safety driver also bears legal responsibility and may even face the criminal charge of vehicular manslaughter, although authorities have yet to declare whether criminal charges will be brought.

In summary, self-driving lawsuits mark a sharp contrast from traditional car accident litigation. Traditional personal injury law focuses on whether a driver acted negligently or failed to provide an ordinary, reasonable standard of care to fellow drivers and passengers on the road.

Here, self-driving car litigation may just as often involve both human negligence (safety drivers) and product liability claims based on a self-driving car’s design defects. Legal claims based on a design defect would not need a finding of negligence to succeed, but instead, a plaintiff must show that the product had an inherent defect in design that made the vehicle unsafe.

It remains to be seen how laws on self-driving car accidents will unfold, but be sure to reach out to The Ledger Law Firm if you or a loved one has been injured in a self-driving car accident via Uber or another ridesharing service. Contact us online for a free case evaluation to discuss your right to legal compensation today.

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This law firm and this lawyer is amazing! I put in a consultation request on a Saturday, extremely late, and received a call from this attorney, HIMSELF…on a Saturday night! Now that’s dedication and almost the exclusive reason I chose him. That showed he was extremely concerned and extremely dedicated to what he does and therefore may help me extremely in the future.

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October 18, 2018 in Uber/Lyft Accidents

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It goes without saying that California car accidents involving a passenger's personal injuries differ greatly from accidents where the injured parties were drivers of their respective vehicles. For one thing, a passenger is not a registered vehicle owner. More importantly, however, California law applies different standards for passengers and drivers, both in regards to recovering compensation and the duty of…
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