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Driverless Delivery Trucks in Southern California – What Happens if they crash?

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Multiple companies are working to bring driverless technology to the highways in California and across the country. According to a report by Wired, driverless trucks are now transporting refrigerators from Texas to California. As the push for more driverless vehicles on the roads continues, the likelihood of these trucks being involved in accidents is also going up.

Accidents that are caused by driverless trucks may result in liability issues. The victims might not know which party is responsible for paying damages to them when they have been injured or their loved ones have been killed in accidents with driverless trucks. It is possible that the families may be able to hold the companies that own the trucks and the manufacturers who make them liable in the event of an injury or fatality accident. The experienced personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat APC might be able to help injured victims and the families of those who have been killed to identify all of the defendants who should be named so that their compensation might be maximized.

Driverless trucks transporting goods from Texas to California

Embark, a start-up company, has been using self-driving trucks to transport refrigerators from El Paso, Texas to Palm Springs, California, which is a 650-mile trip along the I-10 corridor. People load the trucks in Texas, drivers drive them out of the warehouse yard to a rest stop located close to it on I-10. At the rest stop, another person gets into the truck and stays behind the wheel while the truck operates in its autonomous mode. When the trucks reach California, they pull off of the road in Palm Springs. Another driver then takes over and drives the trucks the remaining few miles to the distribution center.

Embark’s goal is to eventually get rid of the human drivers in the trucks altogether. Currently, people have to remain behind the wheel to monitor the trucks to make certain that they are operating safely while they run in their autonomous modes. According to a report in the Verge, a new rule was recently proposed in California to allow road testing of light-duty trucks on California roads. This rule would only allow the testing of light-duty trucks and vans that weigh less than 10,001 pounds and would not permit the testing of heavy-duty trucks and semis. It is unclear how Embark has been able to use its self-driving semi-trucks to transport goods into the state.

Liability issues if an accident occurs with a self-driving truck

When people are injured in accidents with semi-trucks because of the negligence of the drivers, they are able to file lawsuits against the drivers and the companies that employ them. When a semi-truck is autonomously operating and causes an accident, it could be difficult for the injured victims to determine who should be held responsible for the payment of damages. It is possible that the victims could hold the companies that use the trucks to transport goods liable since the trucks were being used for commercial purposes. They also might be able to hold Embark liable under theories of strict products liability and general negligence.

Manufacturer liability

Depending on where the error that led to the accident occurred, the manufacturer of the self-driving trucks may be liable. For example, if the accident happened because of an error in its program, Embark may be liable under a strict products liability theory.

In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a lawsuit that is based on the manufacturer’s strict products liability, the plaintiff must be able to prove that he or she was injured by a product that was defective in its design or in the way that it was manufactured or that insufficient warnings were provided by the manufacturer. Plaintiffs must prove several elements to show that the manufacturers are liable for the harm that they were caused, including the following:

  • The design was defective, causing the vehicle not to perform as it was expected to perform;
  • The defendant was the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the vehicle;
  • The self-driving vehicle did not perform as it was expected to perform;
  • The plaintiff was harmed; and
  • The defective design was a contributing factor to causing the harm to the plaintiff.

When there is a defect in the computer program, it is possible that plaintiffs might also be able to reach the software developer who worked on the coding and made the error in the program.

If the plaintiff is able to meet his or her burden to prove the elements of strict products liability, the burden would then shift to the defendants. Embark would then have to prove that the benefits of its self-driving trucks outweigh the risks of harm. To prevail, Embark would have to prove the following elements:

  • How serious the harm is that could potentially be caused by the self-driving trucks
  • How likely it is for the accidents to happen
  • Whether it would be feasible to choose a different design
  • Any disadvantages of choosing alternative designs

If Embark was able to prove these elements in its favor, the company would prevail in a lawsuit against it. If the company was unable to prove these elements to the satisfaction of the judge or jury, the plaintiff would win.

Company liability

Trucking carriers are responsible for the negligence of their drivers. When they use self-driving trucks, there is a question about whether the companies would be liable for errors that are made by the vehicles. Since the self-driving trucks are being used for commercial purposes, however, it is likely that the trucking carriers that use them would be liable in a personal injury lawsuit.

It is also possible for the companies that employ the drivers who are present in the vehicles in order to monitor them to be vicariously liable for their negligence. If the chauffers failed to take over control of the self-driving trucks to avoid an accident, the companies that employ them could be liable for their negligence.

Embark’s liability under a theory of negligence

Embark could also be potentially liable for an accident involving one of its self-driving trucks under a general theory of negligence. To prove this theory, the plaintiffs would need to be able to prove that the company was negligent in the manner in which it designed or manufactured the self-driving trucks, and the accidents were caused by the company’s negligence.

People who are injured in accidents that are caused by self-driving trucks would likely file lawsuits containing grounds involving both negligence and products liability. An experienced personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles at the law office of Steven M. Sweat APC would review the facts and evidence to determine all of the parties to name as defendants to a lawsuit. To learn more about the rights that you might have after an accident with a self-driving vehicle, contact our office today by calling 323.944.0993.

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