Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

I am here to help you.

Call for a free consultation (206) 340-2008

Who is Liable in an Accident Involving an Autonomous Vehicle?

Posted Friday, July 14, 2017 by Chris Thayer

Governor Jay Inslee recently signed an executive order that permits the testing of driverless cars on Washington roads, whether or not there is a human behind the wheel. Specifically, the order allows companies to apply for permission from the state Department of Licensing for permission to launch pilot autonomous vehicle testing programs.

According to Inslee, 94% of car accidents are caused by human error. He said that autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce the number of accidents.

While that potential does exist, it does not take into account the potential for accidents caused by driverless vehicles, nor does it clarify who will be legally responsible for injuries resulting from such accidents. Will the car manufacturer be responsible? The person behind the wheel (even if he or she is not driving the car)? The government?

*Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Vehicle Accident Examples*Earlier this year federal regulators concluded an investigation into the 2016 fatal Tesla crash in Florida that involved the car’s autopilot system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the Tesla Model S did not have any safety defects and did not need to be recalled. But the NHTSA warned drivers to pay attention even when using cruise control, automatic braking and other driver-assist technologies.

The 2016 crash resulted in the only fatality involving a Tesla (but there have been injuries in other accidents). In this case, a 40-year-old man from Ohio was driving his Tesla on autopilot when he drove under a big-rig truck turning left across a highway. The Tesla was crushed and the Ohio man was killed. The truck driver said he could hear one of the Harry Potter movies playing in the crushed car.

In March, a self-driving Uber crashed in Tempe, Arizona, when the driver of a second vehicle “failed to yield’ to the Uber while making a turn, according to the police. There were two “safety drivers” in the Uber and no serious injuries. But the incident demonstrated that autonomous vehicles are not immune from car crashes.

In fact, when Uber launched its pilot program, the company said that even driverless cars sometimes need human intervention. For example, driverless cars might not be able to easily adapt when there is bad weather or negligent human drivers on the roads.

What Does Inslee’s Order Mean for Me?

It remains to be seen what regulatory action the government will take regarding driverless cars. There is no clear direction on who may be sued when autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents, which is why it is important that victims consult with experienced personal injury attorneys who can advise them on their best course of action. Washington is still a comparative fault state, so it is possible that both vehicles would be found partly responsible and their liability divided accordingly.

Contact Us Today

Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if have been injured in a car accident caused by an autonomous vehicle. This is an emerging area of law, and you will need an experienced attorney to help you receive the compensation that you deserve, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.