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.