What Are Your Options If You're Injured By A Car On Autopilot?

While the flying cartoon cars depicted in the Jetsons never quite materialized with the advances in technology over the last several decades, automation continues to rule the highways -- with more and more vehicles developing "autopilot" modes that allow the car to brake, shift, accelerate, and even change lanes with no action by the driver. However, while these autopilot features can nearly remove human error from the equation, they're not foolproof themselves, as several recent accidents have indicated. If you're injured in an auto accident and evidence shows that the other driver had his or her autopilot deployed at the time, what are your legal and financial options? Read on to learn more about the legal ramifications that may come from a collision with a vehicle on autopilot.

Who is liable in an autopilot-related accident?

Apportionment of fault in auto accidents is an enormous component of both the insurance and legal industries, and determining exactly who (or what) was at fault for an accident can become even more complicated when autopilot enters the picture.  

In general, if the accident can be attributed solely to the autopilot itself (like a programming error), your primary recourse will be against the vehicle's manufacturer if you're not satisfied with the settlement being offered by the other driver's insurance company.

If, on the other hand, the driver was negligent in engaging or disengaging the autopilot mode, he or she will be responsible for any injuries or property damage caused by this negligence. For example, a driver who engages the autopilot mode in severe weather or on a steep, winding road could be determined negligent if he or she could reasonably foresee that the vehicle's autopilot was not equipped to operate in these conditions. A driver using autopilot could also be found liable if he or she modified the autopilot settings in a way that broke the law (for example, setting the vehicle's speed to 65 in a 55 zone). 

In some cases, liability may not only lie with one individual (or auto manufacturer). Many states have "comparative negligence" statutes that permit fault to be divided among several defendants or between the plaintiff and defendant. An individual who is determined to be partially at fault for the accident causing his or her own injuries won't be able to collect 100 percent of the damages awarded -- only the percent that is attributed to the other parties' negligent or reckless actions. If an injured plaintiff is determined to be more than 50 percent at fault in an accident, he or she won't be able to recover any financial judgment against the named defendant(s).

What are your legal options if you're injured by a car on autopilot? 

If you're injured in a car accident and suspect (or know) that the other driver was utilizing an autopilot feature, you'll want to seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney. Even if you're satisfied with the insurance settlement being offered and are willing to waive any future claims against the driver or auto manufacturer, you'll want to ensure you're fully aware of all your options (and the consequences of choosing each) before accepting a settlement offer. 

For those who wish to proceed to a lawsuit, establishing fault can be challenging if a thorough investigation is not performed relatively soon after the accident takes place. After witnesses have dispersed and vehicles are repaired or replaced, getting the answers you'll need to conclusively prove liability will be much harder. Your attorney will be able to help you track down any surveillance video that may exist, subpoena the other driver's cell phone records to determine whether he or she was texting while driving or engaging in other negligent acts just before the crash, and even find individuals who personally witnessed the crash and can provide testimony about their observations.

For more information and advice, contact an auto accident attorney like Carl L. Britt, Jr.