Here's what you need to know about litigating this type of case.

Liability Isn't Always Clear-Cut

The first issue plaintiffs may encounter is assigning liability for the accident. Sometimes the fault is clear. For instance, most of the accidents involving Google's autonomous vehicles were caused by other drivers violating road rules (e.g. running a red light) or rear-end collisions resulting from the inattentive people driving behind the vehicles.

In this situation, the other drivers are clearly responsible for the accidents, and the affected parties would pursue those people for compensation for damages.

On the other hand, there are two accidents involving autonomous cars that illustrate how liability can be complicated by human error: One of Google's self-driving cars made a last-minute lane change and crashed into the side of a bus. In the aforementioned Tesla incident, the vehicle failed to distinguish the white side of a truck from the bright sky, so the car didn't stop when the truck crossed in front of it.

In both of these cases, it would appear the vehicles were completely at fault. However, both vehicles had human occupants who could've intervened to stop the accidents from occurring.

In the Google crash, the human driver noticed the bus but assumed it would stop for the car. In the Tesla collision, investigators uncovered the driver didn't have his hands on the steering wheel, despite the vehicle's visual and audio warnings to do so.

Although the vehicles may have failed at a crucial moment, the drivers may also be held liable if they could've taken action to prevent the accident but didn't. In Wisconsin, this type of contributory liability can result in reduced compensation or no money at all if the court finds the driver was more liable for the accident than the autonomous vehicle.

The Basis of Suing May Also Be Complex

Another issue plaintiffs will run into is determining whether they have an auto accident case on their hands, a product liability case, or a combination of both. Each case type has its own list of things plaintiffs must show in order to win their cases.

Auto accidents are typically litigated as negligence cases requiring plaintiffs to show:
  • The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff (e.g. drive safely)
  • The defendant failed in that duty
  • That failure was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries
  •  The plaintiff sustained compensable injuries
On the other hand, there are several different ways product liability cases can be litigated. It could be a case of negligence, but it could also be:
  • A strict liability issue that holds the manufacturer liable for defects that occur during manufacturing
  • A failure to warn case where the manufacturer fails to notify customers about the dangers associated with using the products
  • A breach of implied or express warranty where the product quality, functionality, or safety is lower than the company guaranteed
  •  A fraud case if the company purposefully misrepresented something about the vehicle that caused the problem
Additionally, in product liability claims, there are a number of different actors besides the manufacturer who could be held responsible for the defects, such as the parts manufacturer, dealership or any middleman that was part of the development, manufacturing or distribution chain.

It is possible, and even preferable in some cases, to sue more than one person for more than one issue. Be aware, though, the time it takes to settle your case and the costs increase with each party and issue you add to the roster.

To learn more about legal issues involving autonomous vehicles or help to litigate an accident case, contact our office for assistance.