Self-Driving Vehicle Accident Lawyers Serve Clients Throughout New Jersey
Aggressive representation when automated cars cause injury and wrongful death
For more than a decade, technology companies have promised to make our roadways safer by automating vehicles. In theory, cars guided by computers would be safer, because computers aren’t distracted, don’t consume drugs or alcohol, and never tire. They don’t suffer from road rage or take unreasonable risks. Remove humans from the process, we’ve been told, and you remove human error, which is by far the leading cause of traffic accidents. However, in some cases, instead of enhancing safety as promised, self-driving cars have created unreasonable risks, especially in those communities being used as testing grounds, as tech companies race to establish themselves as leaders in the market. Moreover, as numerous deadly crashes over the last few years have shown, the new technology complicates the question of liability for injuries and wrongful death.
At Brach Eichler, our car accident attorneys have decades of experience representing clients in personal injury and wrongful death accident cases. But we’re not resting on our laurels: we’re adapting to the new legal implications of self-driving vehicles to better assist accident victims. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with an autonomous vehicle, you can rely on our knowledge and our determination as we fight to recover the compensation you deserve.
What exactly is a self-driving car?
The term self-driving is a bit of a misnomer, but refers to the automated assistance a computer within the vehicle gives to the driver. Tech companies divide self-driving technology into five categories or levels as follows:
- Level 0 — A standard automobile with no self-driving technology
- Level 1 — With “driver assistance technology,” the car performs a few steering or acceleration tasks without human intervention. These include Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Parking Assistance with automated steering, and Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA). All other driving tasks are under human control and a human driver must be actively engaged at all times.
- Level 2 — The “partially automated” system executes accelerating, braking, and steering, but the driver must detect objects, obstructions, or traffic events and respond if the automated system does not. The automated system stands down when the driver takes over.
- Level 3 — With “conditional automation,” the driver allows the vehicle to perform limited “safety-critical functions” under certain traffic or environmental conditions, such as the freeway, This level still requires a driver, but the fact that a driver can defer some but not all major tasks to the vehicle raises the danger of the human driver being disengaged at a critical moment.
- Level 4 — At this level of “high automation,” a human driver is not required unless there is uncertain terrain or severe weather. The driver’s most important responsibility is to determine correctly whether the environment is safe for fully automated control.
- Level 5 — At this level of “full automation,” the vehicle is under computer control in all conditions. A vehicle occupant needs only to choose the destination and initiate the system.
When an accident occurs, the level of self-driving technology in use becomes an issue. The tech company may claim the driver was responsible in the moments preceding the crash, and the driver will attempt to shift blame to the tech company.
Fatal crashes linked to self-driving automation
In recent years, there have been several high-profile, fatal crashes of Uber and Tesla automated cars and other self-driving vehicles. Here are a few crashes with the level of technology involved:
- January 2016 — in China, a Tesla Model S, operating at Level 2, crashed, fatally injuring the driver
- May 2016 — In Williston, Florida, a Tesla Model S, operating at Level 2, crashed, fatally injuring the driver
- March 2018 — In Mountain View, California, a Tesla Model X, operating at Level 2, crashed, fatally injuring the driver
- March 2018 — In Tempe, AZ an Uber-automated Volvo operating at Level 3 struck and killed a pedestrian
- March 2019 — In Delray Beach, Florida, a Tesla Model 3, operating at Level 2, crashed, fatally injuring the driver
- April 2019 — In Miami, Florida, a Tesla Model S, operating at Level 2, crashed, fatally injuring a pedestrian
In each of these crashes, there was a human driver who was expected to be fully engaged. Yet, when the technology failed and the vehicle did not recognize a traffic hazard, the human driver did not react in time. So, who is responsible for the crash?
Theories of liability for self-driving car crashes
If you are injured in an accident with a self-driving car, you have the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that someone else caused the accident. If the automated car is the cause, the question then becomes, who failed to perform, the human or the machine? Here are three possible scenarios:
- Human driver is liable — If the automation failed but the driver should have noticed the danger and had time to avoid the danger, the car company would certainly argue that fault lies with the inattentive driver. However, the driver could argue that the technology created a false sense of security for the driver, and the tech company must bear some responsibility.
- Tech company is liable — If the automation failed due to a problem with the technology, and a reasonably alert human driver could not have avoided the danger, the company that designed the technology is at fault. So, if a computer sensor failed to spot a vehicle or a pedestrian and did not command the vehicle to stop, the fault would lie with the tech company.
- Third-party fault — If the car’s technology was sound, but failed to operate because of faulty installation, the automobile manufacturer could be liable, rather than the tech company. And, if the tech was not defective at the time the car was manufactured, but failed to operate because it had been damaged or was not properly maintained, the blame could lie with maintenance professional or the car’s owner.
We thoroughly investigate the facts of your accident to determine who is at fault, so we can hold those parties fully accountable.
Fighting for the full compensation you deserve
Over the course of many decades, our firm has represented numerous clients who suffered catastrophic injuries and whose loved ones suffered wrongful death. These cases cry out for justice, which requires high levels of compensation. Powerful technology companies who put unsafe vehicles on the road should not be able to shift responsibility onto their customers, who bought the vehicles in good faith in reliance on the company’s claims. These companies have the resources to cover claims, but they also have deep legal departments working overtime to deny those claims. When you go up against Uber, Tesla, or any other company producing self-driving cars, you need a legal team with the experience, skill and resources to take on these tech giants. At Brach Eichler, we are prepared to carry your fight forward, and our attorneys fight to win.
Contact a determined NJ law firm for self-driving car accidents
Attorneys at Brach Eichler draw on decades of experience in auto accident litigation to recover the compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation with a skilled and compassionate lawyer with the determination to fight for you, call us today at (973) 364-8300 or contact our office online.