In A Driverless Truck Accident, Who's At Fault?

Law Articles

In October of 2016, a shipment of beer was delivered in Colorado. While that's not normally newsworthy, this delivery stood out – it was the first known commercial delivery performed by a self-driving vehicle. While there has been a lot of buzz around the idea of driverless cars, driverless trucks have flown under the radar to some extent, but there's a good chance that you will see more of them in the future as companies decide that it's a less expensive way to deliver goods. But considering the amount of damage that can be done by a commercial truck in an accident, it's worth exploring who might be held liable in the event of an accident with a driverless truck.

Truck Accident Liability

Trucking accident liability can already be complicated. There are times when a trucking company might bear some liability in an accident – for example, if they failed to follow safety regulations, knew that the driver had a history of recklessness and continued to employ them anyway, or failed to repair known mechanical problems with the truck before sending the driver out in it, they may be at least partially legally to blame for the accident and may be ordered to pay a settlement to the victim.

However, it's normally the truck driver who bears the brunt of the liability in an accident. Ultimately, they're the ones behind the wheel making the decisions. A 2008 survey found that 93% of vehicle accidents are caused by human error, and truckers are not exempt from making these errors.  But what happens when the driver is a computer? Can a computer be held liable?

Negligence Vs. Product Liability

Of course, you can't sue a computer in a court of law. You can, however, treat the computer like any other product that malfunctions and causes harm. If your smartphone catches fire and burns your hand, you can sue the manufacturer, and that's an example of product liability. Normally, in a truck accident lawsuit, you're suing under the legal theory of negligence – you're arguing that the driver, or possibly the company, acted negligently and resulted in an accident. When it comes to driverless trucks, you would need to use the legal theory of product liability instead.

It's important to understand this change in legal theories, because it may make cases more difficult to prosecute. Many experts believe that product liability cases are more difficult to prove than negligence cases. You may also have multiple defendants to pursue, which can make cases more complicated.

Multiple Defendants

In a product liability case, you may be able to sue the designers, manufacturers, and sellers of the faulty equipment. Because driverless vehicles do currently require a human operator as well (in the case of the Colorado beer deliver, a professional truck driver was in the truck to monitor the vehicle's progress) a court may decide that the human operator and the computer are both to blame, which means that you would have not only a product liability case, possibly against multiple parties, you would also have a negligence case against the operator as well.

In some ways, multiple defendants can be a positive for an accident victim. It gives you multiple chances to collect a judgement or settlement. However, it also means that cases will be more complex and take more time, and victims may have to wait longer for a settlement. Because trucking accidents can be particularly devastating in terms the severity of injuries, victims often have very high medical bills and other expenses and can't afford to wait too long for a settlement or judgement.

While driverless trucking may be able to reduce accidents by eliminating the human error factor, it could also make an already complicated area of law even more complicated. If you're involved in a trucking accident, with or without a driver, you need the advice of an experienced attorney that has a history of winning trucking accident injury cases


7 June 2017

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