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Autonomous Car Accident Claims Its First Wrongful Death Victim

In March, an autonomous vehicle (AV) struck and killed a woman who was crossing an Arizona highway at night despite the car having a human behind the wheel as a safety precaution. An investigation revealed that the vehicle, which was owned and being tested by Uber, failed to detect the pedestrian and that the driver reacted too slowly in engaging the steering wheel to avoid the collision. Some experts commented that although the victim may have been crossing the highway unlawfully, the Uber vehicle’s technology should have sensed her presence and either slowed down or taken evasive action.

The incident has had immediate repercussions on the autonomous driving industry. Before this accident, Congress and some state legislatures were eager to advance testing of AVs and to allow exemptions from certain safety rules that would allow cars to be driven without steering wheels or a human behind the wheel. Uber is not the only company testing self-driving vehicles. Tesla, Google, Waymo, Toyota, General Motors, Alphabet Inc. and a number of others have joined a list of tech companies eager to get in on what is likely to be the future of transportation. Before this tragedy, a Tesla vehicle with a human behind the wheel collided with a tractor-trailer truck in Florida, killing the Tesla driver. Experts reported that that accident was not the fault of the technology.

This accident is different from the Tesla incident in that the Uber vehicle’s algorithms and sensors failed to notice the pedestrian, even if she was either unlawfully or unsafely crossing the roadway. As a result of the incident, Uber announced it was temporarily suspending its testing.

Self-driving cars are being tested mainly in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona. Arizona has lured companies to its state by relaxing regulations on testing and even allows vehicles without a human behind the wheel to pick up and discharge passengers on a limited basis.

In Congress, a bill that would have allowed less restrictions on testing of autonomous vehicles may not come to a vote until the companies involved in testing are able to prove that the technology is safer and can prevent similar accidents. At least two Democrats and one Republican in the Senate have expressed their desire to slow down testing and to implement laws and policies addressing these vehicles. Other notables such as former Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters put out statements warning that there are still too many risks involved and that there needs to be more emphasis placed on safety. The Teamsters are undoubtedly concerned about the move toward self-driving trucks that could result in massive loss of jobs.

However, some industry analysts are saying that not too much should be made of this accident since these incidents are rare. There are up to 40,000 people killed in traffic accidents each year with millions suffering injuries. Industry spokesmen point out that the technology is advancing rapidly and will eventually reduce the numbers of fatalities and accidents to the point where accidents and injuries will be a rarity.

Autonomous Car Accidents

Despite the Arizona car accident, self-driving vehicles are likely here to stay. Most AV companies are still having humans behind the wheel to engage the steering wheel or brakes if needed, but eventually this will no longer be necessary or required. California had been ready to allow testing without a human presence but that measure is on hold while investigators examine the data from the Arizona tragedy. Arizona still allows testing without humans and it is only a matter of time before California and other states follow suit.

Legal experts are still grappling with liability issues regarding these vehicles and the companies that own them. The Arizona accident only highlights the need for more testing before allowing these AVs to be sold to consumers and to be fully autonomous, meaning no human will need to be behind the wheel as a safety precaution. For now, injured victims will have to seek legal assistance from an Uber accident lawyer. liability will hinge on why the vehicle sensors failed to prevent the accident. And if a human was behind the wheel, there may be an issue as to why that individual failed to engage the vehicle once he or knew or should have known that an accident was imminent.

Damages in Autonomous Car Accidents

Injuries to victims of an AV accident will not be any different than in any other car accident. However, liability may not be imposed on the driver who may also own the vehicle, unless that person was required to be behind the wheel and did not engage the car when necessary. Instead, Uber car accident lawyers will look to the designers and manufacturers once it is established that sensors or some other element of technology failed to prevent the accident.

Also, Uber and other AV companies that developed these vehicles have much deeper pockets than your usual auto liability policy. In Massachusetts, the minimum liability limits are $20,000 for a single injury claim and $40,000 for multiple injury claims. AV companies will be on the hook for substantial damages in a serious car accident, although they may well consider this an unfortunate but necessary cost of doing business.

Damages in AV accidents can include:

  • Past and future wage losses
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Diminution in enjoyment and quality of life
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Retain The Law Offices of Burns and Jain

If you or a loved one is hurt or suffers fatal injuries in an AV accident, call an Uber accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Burns and Jain. Our attorneys are experienced and skilled and have the resources to prosecute and pursue tech companies whose negligence was the cause of your injuries. For a free and in-depth analysis, call us at (617) 227-7423.