Sunday, January 24, 2016

Driverless Cars: Litigation of the Future?

The other day, a prominent legal show featured a storyline that involved a driverless car lawsuit against a large tech company. Plaintiff's attorney held a deposition and questioned the designer on artificial intelligence ("AI"), potential bugs, and knowledge regarding the risks of a collision. It was exciting, full of conflict, and made for a good episode.

Issues surrounding driverless technology are not new. Recent news articles have documented accidents that have occurred with driverless vehicles. Creators of the self-automated vehicle were quick to blame humans, instead of the AI. According to automobile insurance data, the tech gurus were right; the humans were found to be at fault.

But, conclusions also showed that driverless cars may be too cautious. Pedantically, driverless cars follow the rules of the road. They do not drive as humans do. And that may be one reason why accidents have occurred. When we drive, intentionally or not, humans have a way of adapting to the situation and bending the rules. Other drivers are aware of this phenomena and respond accordingly. AI vehicles are not programmed, at least not yet, for dealing with slight infractions (although some driverless companies have taken steps to tweak rule-following).

Regardless, accidents do occur. People get injured. With respect to personal injury law, driverless cars will lead to dramatic changes in how cases will proceed forward. Why? Our current system allows for human actors to open a claim (or sue) the other driver responsible for the accident. When there is no other driver, whom does the injured party seek redress? It will likely be the driverless car manufacturer. Suing car manufacturers falls under the umbrella of product liability. While it shares similarities with negligence cases, it is distinct.

The standard modus operandi for personal injury attorneys will be affected by technology. Ultimately, however, legislators will be responsible for creating the new laws/rules regarding self-automated vehicles. Until then, one can only speculate how this technological development will specifically impact injury accident cases.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New 2016 Law Will Require a Database for Police Stops

In the wake of tragic police stories around the country, California took a step in transparency and accountability. Governor Brown has mandated that law enforcement agencies develop a program by 2018 that would allow them to collect and report data on the people they stop. Data will include perceived race and ethnicity, and the cause for the stop.

Similar to other actions taken, Governor Brown cited the phenomenon of "jail and prison populations [exploding]." He also discussed the byzantine California Penal Code, which "[covers] every conceivable form of human misbehavior." Since his day first day in office, he has been serious about criminal justice reform. He believes that this database will result in more justice and more fiscal savings.

Police are not allowed to stop individuals at whim. There must be probable cause for an investigatory stop. "Driving while black or brown" will not suffice. A reported stop that lacks probable cause will face scrutiny from law enforcement, attorneys, and judges. This is a step in the right direction. Far too often cases will be based off an illegal stop.

A separate 2016 law will require protocol to be established for the handling of body cameras worn by police officers. The law intends to ensure that recordings are not mishandled or damaged. Again, criminal litigation relies heavily on recorded evidence. A video may contradict a witness statement, or result in exculpatory evidence for the defendant.

Like stated in previous blog posts, California has a problem with over-incarceration but steps are being taken to address them. These laws will address issues that begin at the outset of a criminal case: the initial police stop and evidentiary support for an arrest. A person cannot be convicted, most of the time, if an arrest was unconstitutional.

If you, or someone that you care about, is arrested for a crime, it is important to seek the advice of experienced counsel. Laws are ever changing and complex. It is essential to consult with someone who may be familiar with new laws that could impact your case.