Currently, car accident cases center on determining human error – which driver was responsible for the accident. The evolving world of car technology is going to change the future of how some car accident cases are litigated.
Self-driving cars, such as Tesla, are being touted as the future of cars. However, there have been accidents involving these cars. As recently as March 23, 2018, a Tesla Model X SUV, with the Autopilot feature engaged, slammed into a concrete highway divider and caught fire, killing the driver.
When a car accident cases goes to court now, generally the judge or jury listens to testimony from each driver and based upon whose testimony they found to be more credible, they make a determination of who is at fault. Occasionally, experts such as accident reconstructionists will offer testimony to aid the judge or jury, but usually just the drivers and/or witnesses who saw the accident will testify.
With more and more self-driving cars and cars with technology such as auto-braking, we may see some cases move from the a determination of driver error to a product liability case where the manufacturer of the vehicle will be a defendant as well. This will also require expert testimony if these cases go to trial. A judge or jury will have to review the evidence of competing experts in order to make their determination on liability. This change will possibly create an economic “trickle down” affect wherein the increased cost to vehicle manufacturers for insurance and the cost of litigation may be passed on to the consumer with higher vehicle prices.
Additionally, on average, most car accident cases settle without going to court because insurance companies, through their own investigations may determine that its own driver(s) were at fault, and a settlement will occur, which allows the injured party to be compensated fairly quickly. However, with a product liability case, you could be talking about years before the case is resolved or adjudicated.
Technology generally makes our lives more convenient, but you always have to consider the law of unintended consequences.