Liability in Self-Driving Car Accidents

With rapid advancements in technology, the future of the human race is autonomy, or the domestic and industrial application of AI, or Artificial Intelligence. A major upcoming industry with AI at its core is autonomous vehicles or self-driven cars. This technology holds immense potential for the transportation industry with lesser risk to human life and reduced logistical costs.

However, self-driving cars still face many obstacles today, technologically, ethically, and legally. While it’s easy to implicate a human driver, it becomes a little more complex when it comes to self-driving cars.

In this article, we’ll discuss the regulatory landscape of the technology and how it’s progressing towards large-scale deployment.

The Need to Regulate Self-Driving Cars

As the world is moving on to Level 3 of driver automation, there’s a pressing need for more laws to be enacted concerning autonomous vehicles. The core issue here is: who do you hold liable in a car accident without any driver? And even with a robust machine-learning algorithm, what influences the decision-making capabilities of autonomous vehicles?

These scenarios require a robust regulatory framework before AVs can be fully deployed in real-world applications.

Here are some of the risks associated with self-driving cars:

  • Driver Liability

Driver liability will arise in cases where a human was in control of the vehicle (whether in-person or remotely) when the accident took place. Such a situation will place a direct liability on the human driver for all damages or loss of life incurred due to the accident.

  • Medical Expenses

Any damage caused by the driver which results in injuries or death as a result of the accident makes them liable to cover up all medical expenses of the victims involved in the car crash.

  • Damage to Property

The driver or controller of the vehicle will also be held liable for any damage caused to property as a direct result of an accident caused due to their fault. If the accident is a result of the negligence of another driver, you’ll not be held responsible for any property damage.

  • Other Damages

Other damages that relate to vehicle accidents, like loss of income suffered by the victim, future living costs, etc., have to be borne out by the driver if the injury was a direct result of an accident while they were in control of the AV.

Self-Driving Car Regulations in the US

The US has emerged as the top market for AV and driverless car technology, with many big players such as Google, Tesla, and Uber testing their autonomous fleet capabilities in the US. So, what’s concerning is that currently, there are no federal laws or regulations that govern driverless cars in the country.

Thankfully, various states have enacted their regulatory framework that governs driverless cars and the liabilities that arise thereof. And California has been right at the heart of AV makers in California and carrying out fleet testing on open roads.

In 2018, California laid out its amended version of the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program, which allowed the testing of autonomous vehicles without a driver inside the car. Since then, AV companies such as Waymo and Tesla have tested thousands of self-driving cars in the state without any kind of human intervention. However, they still have to abide by very strict reporting and safety procedures.

Liability for Driverless Car Accidents

The primary question regarding the liability of AV accidents is whether to hold the driver responsible or the manufacturer and software developers. As Level 5 autonomous vehicles can perform complex driving functions without any human intervention whatsoever, there’s an ideological stand-off between the owner of the vehicle and its manufacturers regarding liability.

The law regarding vehicle accident liability is clear in California; the driver has to pay and is liable to the extent of the damage caused by them due to negligence. But, the lines do get blurry when there’s no driver involved.

  • Driver’s Liability

The same law regarding accident liability for humans driving the car has been conferred to AVs in a capacity. California law describes a driver as the operator of the vehicle, whether they’re present in the driver’s seat or are in charge of the autonomous systems. Like many other states, California holds the driver responsible if the car was driven with their consent, even if the vehicle was operating on its autonomous functions without human intervention.

The California Vehicle Code has thus mandated a fail-safe design for AVs, which transfers the control of the vehicle to a manual operator in case of any software failure. An in-built safety alert system warns the operator of any AV failure, and the operator has to manually operate the steering, brakes, and acceleration of the vehicle. If they fail to take control of the vehicle, they’ll be held liable for any accidental damages.

There’s precedent as well on this matter. In 2018, Uber’s Level 3 autonomous vehicle was involved in an accident resulting in the death of a pedestrian. It was found that the operator failed to take appropriate measures prior to the accident as she was involved on her mobile phone. The court awarded negligent homicide to the driver without placing any liability on Uber.

Google’s self-driving tech partner Waymo also reported that numerous accidents had been averted due to human intervention ever since it started its AV testing in 2018.

  • Manufacturer’s Liability

There’s also legislation that accounts for responsibility to manufacturers and autonomous software programmers. Some states regard autonomous systems as the driver, which makes manufacturers liable for any mishaps caused by their vehicles.

California’s product liability laws dictate that any manufacturer creating a defective product will be held liable for damages caused by their product. This means that the victim just needs to establish a fault in the operating system of the AV and not negligence on the carmaker’s part to hold them accountable.

Regulations on AV: The Road Ahead

Today, an accident involves two drivers, and the liability is sure to fall on one of them. However, things can get a little more complicated in a driverless world.

As of 2021, 29 states in the US have enacted laws pertaining to self-driven cars. However, the lack of uniformity and structure has led to gaps in determining liability.

Many legal experts have argued that ultimately, the burden is due to fall on the manufacturer’s shoulders rather than the driver’s. Although human error can be blamed in cars with a driver, the same can also be applied to autonomous software built by humans. A fault in their design that directly leads to an accident will make manufacturers liable for the damages caused.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the driver or owner of the vehicle is completely absolved. As more legislation starts governing AVs, insurers will more likely rely on the information provided by the car’s system as to the cause of the accident. This could place a direct liability on manufacturers, who will have the burden of proof to show that the fault wasn’t in their design and blame the negligence on the driver.

Instances where the driver took the car out of autopilot or was operating the vehicle even after maintenance and service warning by the car’s systems, will make them directly liable for the extent of damages caused by their negligence.

Hire Experienced Accidental Injury Attorneys in California

Whether the car is operated by a human driver or by AI, the liability as to who’s at fault needs to be determined in order to compensate the victims of an accident fairly.

If you’ve been involved in a car accident or know someone who has, contact Niral Patel Injury Lawyers to get fair compensation with regards to any damages, medical expenses, loss of remuneration, and living expenses incurred. Our experienced team of attorneys is well-versed in Federal and Californian personal injury laws and can win you what you rightfully deserve.

Recovering from a Car Accident Injury

Being a victim of a car accident or crash can be a traumatic experience for many. Any physical and emotional injury you may suffer can be prolonged with an inability to accomplish daily, simple tasks.

Car accidents are major trauma that can scar the body and mind, sometimes permanently. In addition, there is no saying the extent of the physical and emotional damage caused, along with the response they may trigger from the victim. Therefore, it’s essential to seek medical help and give your mind and body sufficient time to heal.

However, there is still hope for a speedy recovery, both physically and mentally. You can get back to everyday life more quickly by following certain guided practices and leaving the traumatic experience behind.

Whatever the case may be, it’s utterly important to consult a doctor the right way to detect physical injuries. If your emotional response to the victim is inhibited in any way, availing psychological help also becomes imminent.

Physical and Psychological Responses That May Need Attention

Being the victim of a car crash is a high magnitude experience for your mind and body, which can overwhelm your senses and rationale for a certain period. Though it is common among victims to experience some nausea right after the mishap (even if no physical injury is sustained), mental shock or indecisiveness can also remain long after.

Here are some of the common emotional responses experienced by car crash victims:

  • Poor memory
  • Sense of fear and low self-esteem
  • Anxiety, depression, and panic attacks
  • A constant state of alertness
  • Guilt, frustration, or anger
  • Inability to stay attentive
  • Intrusive images

Though these aren’t exclusive and mental trauma can result in many extreme scenarios, every car crash victim may experience any one of them as aftermath.

Beyond the mental injury, car crashes can have fatal consequences, many times resulting in the victim’s death.

Some physical symptoms of the same may include:

  • Pain
  • Headache
  • Nightmares
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to Sleep

Suppose a car crash victim experiences any physical or emotional conditions right after the incident. In that case, it’s pivotal, even life-saving, to get them to a medical facility and provide treatment right away.

How long does recovery take?

The physical and mental recovery after a car accident varies person-to-person and per the circumstances. While some people may have more potent and prolonged episodes of guilt and shame, others may experience milder forms of resentment for a lesser period of time.

Ideally, the effects of the accident last for a few days or a couple of weeks after the incident and gradually decline as time goes on. 70% of car crash victims report back to work within eight weeks of the accident.

The recovery time after the accident depends on various factors, such as:

  • Injury sustained in the accident
  • Period of time left unattended with medical care
  • Age of the victim
  • Healthcare infrastructure, and
  • The victim’s prior health and support systems


Tips to Recover from a Car Accident Injury

Whether the victim attains any physical injury or not, it’s critical at this stage to get them access to healthcare without delay. It’s often the case for victims not to feel anything right after the accident even though they may have sustained internal injury. This is because the brain may still be in a state of shock, unable to process the sensation. Getting medical attention immediately can help detect or limit the damage of the internal injury in such cases.

Once the physician or the doctor performs a diagnosis, they will devise a treatment plan for you to recover from the accidents physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Once you’re home starting your recovery phase, these tips can speed up the process:

  • Follow the Treatment Plan

Any form of injury will require your time and patience to recover completely. Adhering to the doctor’s recommendation will keep you in sight of recovery. Moreover, a doctor’s report also plays a massive role if the victim decides to bring an injury lawsuit. The medical records will be proof of your injuries in the court of law for fair and adequate compensation.

  • Take Physical Therapy

Your recovery process may include physical therapy sessions from a practicing physician. Physical therapy sessions can really help you to recover quickly and thoroughly. Some limbs may ache after an accident, and physical therapists have exercise regimes that can get you back to your functioning best. Being proactive in your physical therapy will also prevent any further harm caused after the accident.

  • Eat Healthy Foods

Eating healthy is an integral part of the process, which cannot be undermined. You can also consult a nutritionist to adopt a healthy diet regime to shorten your recovery time. Certain foods carry extra nutrition that helps the body to recover. Protein-rich foods like chicken help build muscle mass, while fruits can reduce any inflammation in the body. A nutritionist will guide you better towards a balanced, healthy, and pro-recovery diet.

It’s also important to stress the need for water intake. This is because, after an accident, the human body uses more water for healing purposes, thereby resulting in dehydration. Consume at least 2 liters of water in a day to better heal your body.

  • Undertake Massage Therapies

Car accidents often result in affecting the muscle movement of the victim. Massage therapies can be immensely useful in this regard. Massage helps in improved blood circulation in the body and treats muscle spasms. Massage therapies may differ as per the accident and body type of the individual. Consult a massage therapist to aid your recovery from a car accident injury.

Legal Help is Optional, But Medical Help is Necessary after a Car Accident

There should be the slightest delay possible in getting a car accident victim medical help. Even a minor accident can have long-term consequences on the human mind or body. And the pain arising from such injuries could take a lot of time to recover. Therefore, it’s crucial for the car crash victim to consult a doctor immediately for their treatment and recovery.

If your economic situation has deteriorated as a result of the accident, the expert personal injury lawyers at Niral Patel can help you get fair compensation for your medical bills, loss of work time, and living expenses in the future.

Consult one of our experts today to weigh in your options for personal injury of any kind.