Autonomous vehicles are no longer a concept car that you only see in testing situations. These vehicles are becoming more common on the roads today, and thus, they are also involved in an increasing number of accidents. When people are injured in crashes with autonomous vehicles, it is natural for them to wonder who is at fault and who could be held liable for paying compensation. With no human driver needed behind the wheel, this is a natural question.
Accidents involving autonomous vehicles are extremely complex. They require an in-depth understanding of the vehicles themselves and a thorough investigation of the crash to determine liability. If you have been hurt in a crash, it is important that you speak to an autonomous vehicle accident lawyer who can help you determine who is at fault and demand the full compensation you deserve.
Contact the experienced attorneys at Burch Law Firm today for a free consultation about your accident.
What Does Autonomous Mean?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there are many definitions of autonomous. The two that are most relevant when it comes to cars are:
- Existing or capable of existing independently
- Responding, reacting, or developing independently of the whole
Autonomous vehicles, sometimes known as self-driving cars, do not require a human to operate or control them. Instead, they use a combination of data from sensors, video cameras, processors, machine learning systems, and other technology to operate themselves.
What Are the Risks of Autonomous Vehicles?
Being driven from one point to another in a vehicle that someone does not have to actually control does sound very convenient. However, there are many risks that come with these vehicles. Some of these dangers are obvious, while others may not have been assessed much yet.
The biggest risks associated with autonomous vehicles include:
- An industry that is not regulated: Although it seems as though autonomous cars are moving closer to becoming mainstream, the technology is still extremely new. Due to this, there is just not enough information available to create a baseline for safety standards. As such, the industry so far is largely unregulated. This is good news for manufacturers, but bad news for riders in autonomous vehicles and anyone on the road around them.
- False sense of security: It has already been demonstrated that when people are in self-driving cars, they have a false sense of security. Passengers have been seen reading, applying makeup, texting, and talking on the phone. All of these practices can be dangerous. Autonomous vehicles may not be able to properly account for bad weather conditions, or properly navigate tricky traffic congestion. These, and other conditions, could lead to an accident if the human inside the vehicle is distracted.
- Hacking: This is one risk of autonomous vehicles that people may not automatically consider. Autonomous cars are connected to the Internet, which makes them vulnerable to hacking just like any other device that is online. This includes the possibility of a hacker taking control of the system and, essentially, the vehicle.
- Malfunctions in the computer system: Autonomous vehicles are really just one big computer. As such, they are susceptible to malfunctions just like any other computer. When a desktop or laptop computer malfunctions, it’s a headache. When an autonomous vehicle malfunctions, it can be fatal.
- Radiation: There has been concern about how cellphones can cause health risks due to radiation exposure. Although it has only been shown that radiation from cellphones has caused cancer in lab mice, the concern is much greater when there is so much electromagnetic field radiation in any given environment, including autonomous cars. There is a lot of technology at work in an autonomous car, and much of this technology relies on electromagnetic field radiation. The fact that it is just not known what effect this radiation will have on humans is a risk in itself.
These are just a few of the risks associated with autonomous cars so far. As these vehicles become more commonplace, there are likely going to be many more concerns raised.
Who Is Responsible for an Autonomous Vehicle Accident?
Even when two vehicles with human drivers at the wheel are involved in a collision, liability can be difficult to determine. When one of the vehicles involved in a crash has no human control, the question of liability becomes even more challenging.
There are many possibilities of fault in a crash involving autonomous cars. These include:
- The passenger in the autonomous vehicle: Although autonomous vehicles are designed to drive without human engagement, the human inside of the vehicle is still supposed to be able to take over control of the vehicle at any time. When passengers inside autonomous cars do not have the capacity, or simply fail, to take over control to prevent an accident, they can be held liable for a crash.
- The autonomous vehicle manufacturer: Sometimes, technology simply breaks down, regardless of whether a human is in control or not. When this is the case and the autonomous vehicle, or any part of the vehicle, breaks down and causes an accident, the manufacturer can be held liable. Additionally, if there was a flaw in the design or manufacturing of the autonomous vehicle, the manufacturer can also be held liable if that error or flaw causes a crash.
- The government: Municipal and state governments have a lot of control pertaining to when and where autonomous vehicles can be driven or tested. If the government allowed these actions in a place that was simply unsafe, and someone becomes hurt as a result, victims could seek to hold the government liable.
Determining which party is liable for a crash involving an autonomous vehicle is extremely difficult. An autonomous vehicle accident lawyer can help find the cause of the accident and determine who was responsible.
Compensation Available After a Crash
Texas law allows accident victims to hold negligent parties liable for paying the compensation they need to fully recover from their injuries. In Texas, there are two types of damages available in personal injury claims: special damages and general damages.
Special damages are those that have a concrete dollar value, making them fairly straightforward to calculate. General damages refer to types of losses that do not have an actual dollar value, making them more difficult to quantify.
Combined special and general damages may include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Rehabilitative costs
- Medication costs
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
To determine how much a specific claim is worth, an attorney will review the facts of the case and identify all types of damages available.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim
In Texas, like in all other states, there is a time limit for filing personal injury claims. This is known as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for car accident claims in Texas, including those involving autonomous cars, is two years from the date of the accident.
To many accident victims, two years sounds like a lot of time. Unfortunately, it is not. Before filing your claim with the insurance company or the court, your attorney must conduct a full investigation. This involves reaching out to witnesses to obtain their statements, collecting physical evidence from the scene, gathering medical documents, obtaining video surveillance that may be available, and more. In car crashes that involve autonomous vehicles, it may even include obtaining certain parts of the vehicle, such as the motherboard of the computer, for analysis.
This investigation takes time, but it is crucial to any accident claim. For this reason, accident victims should speak to an autonomous vehicle lawyer as soon as possible to get started on a claim.
How a Lawyer Can Help with Your Case
Most accident claims involving injury require the help of a lawyer, but this is especially true when it pertains to accidents involving autonomous vehicles. If you have been involved in an autonomous vehicle accident, your lawyer will:
- Advise you of your legal options and answer all your questions
- Determine who was liable for your crash, or whether multiple parties were at fault
- Obtain all the necessary evidence to craft a strong case
- Communicate with the vehicle manufacturer if necessary
- Communicate with all insurance companies involved
- Gather medical records and work with experts to thoroughly document your injuries
- Accurately evaluate the total value of your claim
- Handle all paperwork and legwork associated with your claim
- Enter into negotiations and aggressively negotiate toward a fair settlement
- Take the case to trial, if necessary
These are just a few of the ways an attorney can help in a personal injury case that involves an autonomous vehicle. Your lawyer will always work in your best interests and ensure your rights are protected.
Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?
When self-driving cars were first released and tested, they were touted as being much safer than cars driven by humans. The theory behind this is that these vehicles would remove human error from the equation and therefore cause fewer accidents. Unfortunately, that has not been proven yet. What has been proven is that self-driving cars bring with them their own set of dangers.
First, self-driving cars may not take into consideration certain conditions. They may not be able to detect that the roads are slick from rain or that the conditions are especially windy. There has not been any evidence to determine for a fact that these vehicles can take into consideration these conditions and accommodate for them.
Second, it is important to remember that even though self-driving cars may not “need” a human driver, a passenger in the car is still expected to take over control of the vehicle when there is a possibility of an accident. This still leaves open the opportunity for human error when a dangerous situation presents itself.
Additionally, autonomous cars have so many more components than other traditional vehicles. They include countless computer technologies that can break down, and just about every system in an autonomous vehicle relies on these technologies. When any one of these technologies breaks down, it could pose a real threat of an accident.
Deaths Involving Self-Driving Cars
Autonomous vehicles have only been on the road for a few years, and already, it is clear that these vehicles are not immune from fatal crashes. Some of the most notable fatalities involving self-driving cars include:
- One death on January 20, 2016, in Handan, China
- One death on May 7, 2016, in Williston, Florida
- One fatality on March 18, 2018, when a self-driving Uber hit a pedestrian in Arizona
- One death in Mountain View, California, on March 23, 2018
- One death in Delray Beach, Florida, on March 1, 2019
- One death in Osceola, Florida, on September 19, 2019
With the exception of the Uber accident, all other deaths were caused by a Tesla model that was using autopilot at the time of the crash.
Talk to an Autonomous Vehicle Lawyer Now
If you have been hurt in an accident involving an autonomous vehicle, there is little doubt that you have a lot of questions. At Burch Law Firm, our New Braunfels autonomous vehicle attorneys can help.
After reviewing your case, we will answer all of your questions, advise you of your legal options, and fight for the full and fair amount of compensation you need. Contact us now to schedule your free consultation so we can get started on your claim.