Self-Driving Cars and the Law

Posted by Majid Foroozandeh | Lead Litigation Counsel & Founder of the Firm | May 02, 2016 | 0 Comments

So what happens if you are in an accident with a Self-Driving car? Or what happens if a Self-Driving car hits a pedestrian?

Certainly legally speaking, myriads of issues are at play here. Just a few that comes to mind are product liability, negligence and of course insurance. Now then how do you make sense of it all? The California Jury Instructions (CACI) 1200 on Strict Liability – Essential factual Elements are: That the Plaintiff claims that he/she was harmed by a Self Driving Car distributed/manufactured/sold by the Defendant. Note that distributer, manufacturer, and the dealer (seller) are all potentially liable here. So to prove this the Plaintiff must show that the manufacturing contained a defect or was defectively designed or that the Self Driving Car did not include sufficient instructions or warning of potential safety hazards.

Certainly with the advent of this new technology our justice system and laws will evolve more to accommodate new scenarios and facts coming up with each new case. However, looking at some of the prior cases will still be the stepping stone for the future. I suppose at some point the horse and buggy laws will be obsolete, but till then our judges will have no option to parallel the existing laws on the books to decide cases. There are a few cases worth mentioning:

“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.” (Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 [34 Cal.Rptr.2d 607, 882 P.2d 298], internal citations omitted.) Foreseeability is the cornerstone of our justice system when it comes to new technology. By being new we would not know what is foreseeable since we are not in a new sphere of events and laws yet to be developed to accommodate the events.
“Strict liability has been invoked for three types of defects—manufacturing defects, design defects, and ‘warning defects,' i.e., inadequate warnings or failures to warn.” (Anderson v. Owens- Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 987, 995 [281 Cal.Rptr. 528, 810 P.2d 549].) So one would think that until theses manufacturing defects, design defects, and ‘warning defects come up and identified the court room would be fertile grounds for new laws to be developed and evolved.
“A manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being… The purpose of such liability is to insure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturers that put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves.” (Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 57, 62—63 [27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897].) But really to correct defects we need to experience the defect if we don't know about it since it has not yet manifested itself. Certainly all one has to do is too consider the difference in between the visual warning system (the driver himself or herself) verses the collusion warning system (the onboard computer) of the Self Driving Car. It is an exciting are of law yet to be developed.
“Beyond manufacturers, anyone identifiable as ‘an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise' is subject to strict liability.” (Arriaga v. CitiCapital Commercial Corp. (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1527, 1534 [85 Cal.Rptr.3d 143].) So then the question becomes who is going to be the lost leader per se, and who has the gumption and dares to take the challenge head on to market these new additions to our modern life.
“[T]o hold a defendant strictly liable under a marketing/distribution theory, the plaintiff must demonstrate that: ‘(1) the defendant received a direct financial benefit from its activities and from the sale of the product; (2) the defendant's role was integral to the business enterprise such that the defendant's conduct was a necessary factor in bringing the product to the initial consumer market; and (3) the defendant had control over, or a substantial ability to influence, the manufacturing or distribution process.' ” (Arriaga, supra, 167 Cal.App.4th at p. 1535.) I can just see; new practice areas for our young lawyers developing in the conference rooms of our law firms, and eventually the practice areas are codified by law in books to be studied and learned in law schools around the world.
“[T]he doctrine of strict liability may not be restricted on a theory of privity of contract. Since the doctrine applies even where the manufacturer has attempted to limit liability, they further make it clear that the doctrine may not be limited on the theory that no representation of safety is made to the bystander. [¶¶] If anything, bystanders should be entitled to greater protection than the consumer or user where injury to bystanders from the defect is reasonably foreseeable. Consumers and users, at least, have the opportunity to inspect for defects and to limit their purchases to articles manufactured by reputable manufacturers and sold by reputable retailers, whereas the bystander ordinarily has no such opportunities. In short, the bystander is in greater need of protection from defective products which are dangerous, and if any distinction should be made between bystanders and users, it should be made, contrary to the position of defendants, to extend greater liability in favor of the bystanders.” (Elmore v. American Motors Corp. (1969) 70 Cal.2d 578, 586 [75 Cal.Rptr. 652, 451 P.2d 84].) I would think that a new area of law will be developed around artificial intelligence to accommodate what is to come.
Credits: JUSTIA:
We certainly live in interesting times, and it is exciting to be a lawyer with things yet to come!

About the Author

Majid Foroozandeh | Lead Litigation Counsel & Founder of the Firm

Practice Areas – Personal Injury, Civil Litigation, Family Law, Immigration, Auto Accidents, Employment and Labor Law, Business and Corporate Matters, and Bankruptcy – Personal or Business.


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