Who is to Blame When you are Injured by a Driverless Car?

Hit by a Driverless Vehicle? Who’s to Blame?

By JW Law

It’s the year 2025. You just bought a shiny new driverless car and decided to take a ride. You enter your destination using voice control and head out of the city. As your car cruises down the highway, you catch up on your emails, sip a cup of coffee and listen to your favorite music. On the road, your car scans its surroundings, using a combination of cameras, detailed maps, radar, and adjusts its speed accordingly. Just as you get comfortable on your new ride- crash! – Your car strikes the driverless vehicle in front of you.

In normal circumstances, you would assess the damage, exchange insurance information, gather witnesses, and prepare for a legal battle. But this isn’t your typical accident. You were not in control of your car. So who is responsible for the damages? You? Your car manufacturer? Or the software programmer?

The above scenario may be imaginary, but injuries and deaths by autopilot systems (in semi-autonomous cars) are already a reality. Just last year a driver of a semi autonomous Tesla Model S was tragically killed when his car – in autopilot mode- rammed into the side of a tractor-trailer.

Tesla released a statement admitting that the car’s sensors failed to distinguish the large white truck against a bright sky. However, the company placed the blame on the driver stating that “the drivers need to keep their hands on the wheel to stop accidents like this from happening.” Soon after the incident, the car manufacturer announced that the company would not accept any liability for car crashes while in autonomous mode.

While other car manufacturers like Volvo, Google, and Mercedes have proactively pledged to accept full liability, they have not explained what “full liability” means.

“Since this technology is relatively new and just now being utilized on public roads, federal and state law is relatively silent on the subject.” said Jeffrey A. Rizika, Esq., who is chair of the Auto Committee for the New Jersey Association for Justice (NJAJ), the largest trial lawyer organization in New Jersey and whose practice includes automobile, truck, and bus litigation. “However, at this stage, all parties will likely be sharing the fault to some extent for such crashes.”


Who is to Blame When you are Injured by a Driverless Car?

Driverless cars are touted to bring a lot of benefits. They can empower those who are unable to drive themselves, make commutes more productive, reduce traffic, and most importantly, dramatically reduce traffic fatalities by taking human errors and emotions out of the equation. The National Transportation Safety Board estimated that driverless cars could save many, if not most of the 32,000 lives lost every year. However, robot cars are not completely immune to accidents, and therefore the question of responsibility for accidents remains. So who exactly is responsible for accidents?

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in response to a letter from Google, wrote that “If no human occupant of the vehicle can actually drive the vehicle, it is more reasonable to identify the driver as whatever (as opposed to whoever) is doing the driving.”

Does this mean victims can sue the automaker for accidents? “Each incident will require a separate analysis of the factors that resulted in the crash, how much control each potential defendant had to avoid the crash and what the reasonable expectations were of the parties involved,” explains Rizika. However, some lawmakers, car companies, and auto industry advocates are already pushing for measures that will let car manufacturers off the hook. In a report released earlier this year, the American Association for Justice (AAJ) warned that some regulatory proposals to ensure safety and accountability would, in fact, give robot car manufacturers legal immunity. In the report, titled: “Driven to Safety: Robot Cars and the Future of Liability,” AAJ also outlined potential safety gaps that could place the public at risk and recommended policies that the civil justice system, rather than regulators, legislators or the industry itself, serves as the primary forum for determining safety requirements and liability for failing to protect the public.

The vision of bringing driverless cars to the marketplace is slowly becoming a reality. Although this technology potentially offers benefits to the public, it also poses a very dangerous potential problem due to flaws that have not yet been worked out and the confusion that surrounds the usage of such vehicles. The attorneys at Javerbaum Wurgaft are dedicated to protecting the public against wrongful acts perpetrated against them and seeing that justice is done. If you have been injured in an accident involving a vehicle utilizing this new technology, please contact Mr. Rizika and the rest of the motor vehicle negligence team at Javerbaum Wurgaft. We are here to help.


Uber/Lyft accidents

What You Need to Know Before Taking Your Next Uber/Lyft Ride

By JW Law

There’s no doubt that ride share (e-hail) companies like Uber and Lyft have helped change the way we get around. Having the ability to seamlessly request a ride right at your fingertips is a game changer. The fact that it’s cheaper and convenient has afforded these Transportation Network Companies (TNC) unprecedented popularity and growth around the world in a very short time. In New Jersey alone, ride sharing companies are generating millions of trips each year.

However, this 21st Century transportation renaissance is not without controversy. As the number of people using for-hire car service increases, so do accidents. In New York City alone crashes involving for-hire vehicles have tripled over the last two years from 534 in July 2014 to 1,672 in June 2016. The higher number is perhaps attributable to the relative lack of regulation around the ride sharing companies. To cut down auto accidents and to make e-hail rides safer, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, signed a bill regulating these companies.

The statute, known as the “Transportation Network Company Safety and Regulatory Act,” establishes statewide standards for driver eligibility, background checks, and insurance coverage.

In addition to imposing stricter background checks for prospective TNC drivers, the new law mandates ride sharing companies to carry $1.5 million of liability coverage.
The law that went into effect May 1 requires that the company or its driver or a combination of both provide insurance coverage, including at least $1.5 million in coverage for uninsured or under insured drivers. “Where there was no regulation as to how much insurance ride share vehicles were required to carry, the new law now mandates that all such vehicles, while transporting passengers or on their way to picking up a passenger, must possess enough coverage to protect those passengers, as well as the public at large.” explained attorney Jeffrey Rizika, who is chair of the Auto Committee for the New Jersey Association for Justice (NJAJ), the largest trial lawyer organization in NJ and whose practice includes automobile, truck, and bus litigation.

Although this new law does not include coverage for direct payment of a passenger’s medical bills, “if the person does not have health insurance of their own, the $1.5 million of coverage each for liability and uninsured/under-insured motorist claims more than helps to cover any outstanding medical bills incurred as a result of another’s negligence.” said Rizika.

Uber/Lyft accidents

New York recently passed a similar legislation. The New York’s bill provides for liability and under-insured motorist coverage of $1.25 million, slightly less than New Jersey’s $1.5 million of coverage, for when a passenger is being transported. However, the $1.25 million New York coverage also applies when the Uber or Lyft driver is roaming and waiting for a call from a potential passenger, while the New Jersey statute only provides $50,000/100,000 of liability coverage in this scenario.

“The New York and New Jersey bills have taken steps to protect the safety of ride share passengers and to provide them with responsible insurance coverage if they become the victim of auto negligence” said attorney Lawrence Simon, who is the co-chair of the Ride share Litigation Group of the American Association For Justice (AAJ), the country’s largest trial lawyer organization. However, there are still areas for improvement that will hopefully be addressed in future legislation. For instance, neither state requires ride share companies to perform criminal background checks on their drivers. Additionally, coverage for pedestrians, drivers and occupants of other vehicles will only be available if the ride share vehicle can be identified as a ride share vehicle. Neither state’s new laws require the posting of Uber, Lyft or other ride share provider signage on the vehicle.

Both Rizika and Simon are partners at Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins, P.C. and active members of AAJ and NJAJ, the latter of which was very active in promoting the insurance component included in the New Jersey bill.

If you are injured by a ride share vehicle or while a passenger in a ride share vehicle, please contact us as soon as possible after your accident.

[Read Related: Protect Yourself Against Hit and Run and Uninsured Drivers]