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Is Tesla liable for car accidents that occur on Autopilot?

By Brady McAninch on July 21, 2016

In May of this year, the first reported fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot occurred in Florida.  The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun investigating the matter to determine whether the Autopilot system worked according to promises and expectations.

Since May, there have been a series of accidents where those involved have blamed the Tesla Autopilot system.  Most recently, just a week ago, another accident occurred in Montana where the Tesla Autopilot was reportedly engaged.    According to reports, the vehicle, while traveling 56-60 mph, drove off the road hitting multiple guard rail posts.  The problem is not limited to Tesla.  A Google self-driving car reportedly caused a crash earlier this year as well.

What happens when self-driving car accidents occur?

These accidents remind us that although self-driving cars are coming, questions remain regarding their safety.  Google, Tesla, Ford, and others are spending millions of dollars, if not more, a year on research and development in order to further these systems.  But with questions about safety come questions about insurance and liability.

For example, when two drivers get into an accident, the personal insurance policy of the at fault driver will cover the damages and injuries sustained by the other driver.  This has been how our legal system has handled car accidents for over half a century. Self-driving cars change this equation.  What should be done when neither driver is at fault, but, instead, a vehicle’s computer system is to blame?  Should the driver of the “at-fault car” have reacted?  Did the computer system fail?  With over five states already approving self-driving cars and reports that we will see as many as 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020, this question is an important one to answer.

Many have predicted that liability will shift from the individual drivers to the automakers.  Meaning that Ford Motor Company, Tesla, or General Motors could become responsible for the bodily injuries and property damage that occurs as a result of an auto accident.  This would be a massive shift in how accidents cases are currently handled.  Unfortunately, it is too earlier to predict where liability will fall.  As we see more of these cases, we will begin to get a better idea as to where the law will shift.

Who should be responsible when a self-driving car causes an accident?

Regardless who is responsible, there has to be a mechanism in order to assure that victims of auto accidents are compensated for their property damage and bodily injuries.  A car accident is a traumatic time for anyone.  I can speak from personal experience.  Just recently I was hit by a driver who clearly appeared to be under the influence.  Since then I have been in severe pain and have been forced to seek treatment.  At Hipskind & Mcaninch, we understand the position you are in following an accident.  We know it is a difficult and often painful time.  Let us use our experience both inside and outside of the courtroom to help guide you.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a vehicle accident, contact one of the experienced car accident attorneys at Hipskind & McAninch for a FREE case consultation: 618.641.9189 | 314.242.2930 |

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