Compared to the German liability framework, the US law is more complicated because tort liability is governed by the rules of each state, as well as judge-made Common Law. In addition, the available and compensable amounts of damages in cases vary from state to state. Accordingly, there is no predictability or consistency in the U.S.
The inconsistency is particularly heightened concerning autonomous driving. First, there is no case-law doctrine on this matter, which means that courts in each state will have to fit autonomous driving lawsuits into an antiquated tort-law system.
Given that each state has varying requirements for tort liability and varying compensable damages for such liability, the U.S. is primed to have inconsistent results when it comes to the issue of liability for autonomous cars.
Complicating the liability issue further is who should be liable for accidents involving autonomously driven cars. When analyzing how U.S.-courts today decide in cases concerning comparable autonomous technology such as autonomous trains, airplanes or sea vessel’s autopilots, it seems likely that courts will apply products and strict liability rules to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) where an autonomous car itself is the sole cause of an accident.
This will be justified by the inherent dangerousness of a car. However, bearing in mind that products and strict liability claims in the US often are the basis of severe class action lawsuits, this might threaten OEMs and cause a demand for some kind of legal protection or immunity in order to facilitate the introduction of this new technology.
What will happen if nothing changes in the U.S.?
Hence, the question we are facing is whether the U.S. will or will not reform their framework of civil road accident liability specifically for robot cars – what is your opinion about this? Furthermore, assuming no changes to U.S. law will come in time – do you think civil liability will turn into a competitive disadvantage to hamper the spread of autonomous cars?
Share your ideas and opinions regarding the above US-approach to accident compensation.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.