Self-Driving Uber Accident Raises Legal Liability Questions

A number of legal questions are being raised by the death of an Arizona pedestrian, who was struck earlier this month by a self-driving Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona.It is the first death in the country involving a self-driving vehicle, and the Insurance Journal reports legal liability in the case is being closely watched. It could raise issues relevant to Maine car accident victims as well.

The self-driving SUV was operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a safety driver when the Volvo XC90 struck and killed a 49-year-old woman walking her bicycle outside a crosswalk on a four-lane road, according to police. The incident has been caught on videotape.

Liability in Ride-Sharing Accidents in Maine

Uber and other ride-sharing services have been around for several years and have presented legal liability questions of their own.

In August 2015, Maine lawmakers passed the Transportation Network Company Insurance Act. Among other things, it requires ridesharing drivers to carry $1 million minimum bodily injury insurance coverage while transporting passengers. The law closely follows a national agreement among Uber and other ridesharing companies with some of the nation’s largest insurance companies, including Allstate, State Farm, and USAA.

Such coverage should extend to accident victims injured either in an Uber driver’s vehicle or in another vehicle in a collision with an at-fault Uber driver. But in this case there was essentially no driver.

Accident Liability & Risk of Self-Driving Technology

We often think of self-driving technology in terms of the future. In reality, that future is here, and such technology is being tested in a number of states by companies like Volvo and Tesla, which recently unveiled plans for an electric semi with self-driving technology.

For its part, Volvo has signed an agreement with Uber to provide more than 20,000 vehicles for self-driving, ride-sharing services.

In general, such technology is quickly gaining credit for being safer than human drivers, but where it has shown vulnerability is when encountering the unexpected from bicyclists, motorcyclists, or human drivers. This first fatal accident is being investigated by both the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

While auto accident cases typically focus on the negligence of an at-fault driver, litigation involving self-driving technology is likely to be as much about dangerous products and defective design. These cases will likely involve the software companies and vehicle manufacturers that are designing and deploying such technology.

Car accident attorneys and legal experts are also watching to see if litigation exposes confidential indemnity agreements among companies involved with developing this technology. Such agreements would outline who accepts liability in the event of an accident. Thus far, companies like Uber and others have quickly settled injury cases associated with their technology, both to avoid bad publicity and to avoid making such disclosures about these manufacturing partnerships.

But with autonomous technology being quickly deployed on the nation’s roads, it’s become increasingly apparent that most questions about legal liability will ultimately be answered in court.

If you are a victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

New law regulates Uber’s ridesharing services in Maine, Aug. 24, 2015, Mainebiz.

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