A few days ago, a woman in Arizona lost her life when she stepped in front of an Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode. This was a terrible event, as were the other approximately 106 motor vehicle-related fatalities that occurred yesterday. In fact, we can expect roughly that same amount every day for the rest of the year. That’s right. In 2017, more than 39,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents.
That’s important perspective when responding to the Uber accident in Arizona. Under laws currently on the books in Arizona, and in all 50 states, there will be a determination of fault in this accident. Damages may be awarded according to the percentage of fault (if any) on the part of Uber and/or its product manufacturers, developers and service providers. The same will be true in most, if not all, the other 106 fatal motor vehicle events that occurred that day. A preliminary review of video of the incident showed the now-deceased woman quickly moved into the path of the vehicle. No matter who or what was operating the vehicle, it could not be stopped in time to avoid her.
The primary goal in developing autonomous vehicles is to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries. But a single event, as tragic as it is to those involved and their families and friends, should not be used to stop the development of this new and exciting technology.
Yes, the industry needs to proceed cautiously, using sound judgment, but we should not heed those who sound the “robot vehicle” alarm. That same mentality would have prevented the introduction of airbags and other initially controversial but truly lifesaving motor vehicle improvements.
As suppliers assist in the development of this new technology, they should do the following to protect their own interests:
- Specify in detail what they are and are not responsible for in terms of product or software design, integration and most importantly validation, with contract terms that accurately reflect the scope of each party involved in the overall vehicle development and release for both testing and distribution.
- Carefully define the performance specifications of the product or software being sold.
- Seek indemnification for product liability or recall exposure from the upstream Tier or “OEM” (traditional and non-traditional) as they will ultimately be responsible for testing, distributing or operating the vehicle in the public domain.
- Explore the purchase of adequate product liability and recall insurance.
If you have questions regarding how fault may be determined in this recent tragedy and the impact on your business, please contact Tom Manganello or any attorney from the Autonomous and Connected Mobility
team at Warner Norcross + Judd.