Electronic Car Key

The Future of Car Wreck Litigation

The driverless car is coming.  And when it does, accident fatalities will decrease substantially.  What will the legal landscape look like in a world in which human error has been removed from the driving experience?

The Future of Car Wreck Litigation

Newsweek notes the life-saving potential of driverless cars:

Human error is the main reason for most car crashes. In July 2008, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a report to Congress called the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.  After studying 6,950 crashes over a period of three years they determined that 93 percent of all the accidents were caused by human error: Among other things, people were distracted, they were traveling too fast, they misjudged the other driver or their own abilities, they overcompensated after an error, they panicked or, in 3 percent of cases, they were asleep. Removing humans from the equation will eliminate every one of those problems. According to a 2015 study by McKinsey & Company, fatalities from car accidents could fall by as much as 90 percent, saving $190 billion, when driverless cars take over.

If accident fatalities “fall by as much as 90 percent,” car wreck litigation as it is now generally practiced could face some major upheavals.   As driving becomes less deadly and less dangerous, people will be less injured.  The fewer injuries and accidents, the smaller the need for legal services.   Decreased demand for car wreck attorneys could drive some attorneys from the “marketplace” of car wreck litigation.

As demand falls for legal services (in this imagined future of car wreck litigation in the age of the driverless car), it is also possible that the insurance premiums available as compensation in car wreck lawsuits will be much less than today’s levels.  Here again, from Newsweek:

A recent study by the insurance, tax and auditing firm KPMG found that if accidents drop by 80 to 90 percent, the personal auto insurance sector could also fall by as much as 60 percent due to lost premiums. Some of that could be made up by insuring manufacturers, who will likely take on the burden of responsibility for car-related accidents. After all, it’s their software that will control how cars drive, so it will be on them to prevent fender benders.

With the human error element removed from the roadways, recoveries in car wreck litigation may center upon the liability of the programmers and manufacturers who design and build driverless cars.  Instead of focusing on driver negligence, future car wreck cases may focus on the safety of the driverless cars involved in accidents. In the future of car wreck litigation, car wreck attorneys will have to brush up on their products liability law.

Another possible consequence of the driverless car: “Cities like L.A. may start running fleets of driverless public transportation cars and vans.”  Lifestyle benefits aside, this kind of change would mean, in effect, that any accident involving a city-owned driverless car would be capped under typical Governmental Tort Liability Acts. The capping of potential recoveries could discourage law firms from pursuing such cases. It is conceivable, if not likely, that local, state, and even the federal government could protect driverless car manufacturers from potential lawsuits.

Of course, fewer serious injuries are a good thing. But law firms and personal injury lawyers will need to adapt to the changing technological landscape in order to adjust to this hypothetical future of car wreck litigation in the age of the driverless car.

[post written by @CWSmith_Law]