As auto technology evolves and expands, liability in a crash also is being redefined to address new safety protocols such as auto-brakes, autonomous vehicles or “driverless cars” and crash avoidance technology. How will such changes in liability affect you after a car crash?
Under product liability law, when a manufacturer designs, makes and sells a vehicle with defective parts, the manufacturer is liable in an injury lawsuit after a crash caused by such defects. In this sense, new auto safety technologies are no different than a faulty door latch or an exploding gas tank. If auto-brakes or another new feature fails, the manufacturer is liable.
However, making a injury claim depends on the state, since state laws concerning auto insurance impact liability.
Some states have laws for no-fault auto insurance, meaning a person’s insurer must pay on their claim regardless of who was at fault for the crash. Texas is not a no-fault state. Rather, drivers are required by law to have liability insurance so that, if an accident is their fault, they are responsible — through their insurer — for paying for other persons’ medical care and property damage costs.
The RAND Corporation conducted a study of self-driving vehicles and concluded that no-fault auto insurance could be an alternative to tort-based laws (as Texas has) as automated vehicles become more common. The study asserted that cost-benefit analysis be adopted in laws, since new technology is presumed to be more apt to lower human error than to cause it.
The study also observed that manufacturer liability “is likely to increase while personal liability is likely to decrease. If a vehicle and a human share driving responsibility, the insurance issues could become more complicated.”
Such complications could include a car being rear-ended because its new auto-brake system worked too well, or a driverless car causing a crash in which outside factors such as road obstructions contributed.
But while new laws may be needed to resolve complex claims after a car crash injury due to a new auto technology, current product liability laws may be applied. These laws hold manufacturers responsible when a product they made causes an injury.