2021 Winning Essay
Northern Kentucky University
How will electric powered vehicles impact the legal industry? Specifically describe how car accident liability will be affected through self-driving vehicles?
The most notable impact will be culpability to manufacturers such as Tesla. When deciding on who has the most culpability after a vehicle accident will depend on the language in the contract when purchasing a self-driving vehicle. Any language clearly agreed upon at time of purchase, stating that the owner of the vehicle will hold harmless the manufacturer in the event of an accident, will undoubtedly be called into question.
Notably however, will be the interpretation of culpability at trial when deciding on the firmware’s owner or originator. When attempting to find fault in a self-driving vehicle there first must be an understanding as to the owner of the vehicle, who updates and maintains software, and the amount of incidents involving software glitches or corrupt software files, the most difficult part of finding responsibility.
If there begins to be multiple accidents involving injury or death, a jury, or more importantly the NHTSA may, after thorough investigation, decide that the manufacturer or software development company is at fault. If there is proof of tampering however, the owner, or someone the owner designates, may become liable. Another reason for the NHTSA to become involved is to aid the manufacturer in deciding to recall a vehicle.
Unfortunately there will undoubtedly be questions as to the availability of insurance as well if companies will feel confident in underwriting insurance policies. Which mean that premiums could go up or individuals will be cited for driving without insurance. Lawsuits will amass if insurance companies can prove that the self-driving vehicle was at fault and individuals do not have insurance.
Another issue will arise with self-driving cars is the concept of DUI/DWI accountability. Can a person who is a “passenger” inside a self-driving car be guilty of DWI as the vehicle can be described as a “designated driver”. Do you penalize the driver for the accident even though they were not in control of the vehicle? Or do we make a mockery of the court and claim that the person shouldn’t have gotten inside the car under the influence because the possibility was there that an accident could take place.
The most profound situation we find ourselves in when looking at the accident liability is the fact that owners are trusting that their vehicle will not do something that will cause an accident such as veering into another lane or running a stop light. In these instances do you ticket the owner of the vehicle for these infractions, or do you fine the manufacturer or software developer? Will attorneys choose to partake upon these journeys in order to represent someone who was injured by a self-driving vehicle?
Another question to ask is can an individual who owns the self-driving vehicle sue for damages, the manufacturer or software developer? Under what statute would an individual have legal precedence in order to sue the manufacturer? Does the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 cover self-driving automobiles that cause accidents? Or can the owner and victims sue the manufacturer under the Negligence Per Se statute or the Product Liability: Negligence statute. This will be where legal scholars and Juris Scholars will have to decipher the law based on the understanding that self-driving cars, are in fact, still products that should not be a danger to being a lemon.