Your Complete Guide to Driverless Car Accident Lawsuits in California

As top car accident attorneys serving Southern California, we’ve helped countless injury victims secure the compensation they need to recover. If you suffered serious injuries in an accident with a self-driving car, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact us online to learn more

Twenty years ago, self-driving cars were only science fiction. They’re a reality quickly becoming mainstream, at least in California. While consumers are eager to get on board, the laws and regulations surrounding driverless cars struggle to catch up.  Driverless Car Accident Lawsuit in California

As the recent GM Cruise debacle illustrates, California is still working out how to test autonomous vehicles' safety accurately. After a series of accidents involving GM Cruise’s driverless cars, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the company’s autonomous vehicle deployment and driverless testing permit, citing an unreasonable risk to public safety.

More than 40 companies currently have permits to operate or test driverless cars in some capacity in California. With driverless cars at an all-time high on California roadways, drivers and operators need to understand the implications of being involved in an accident with a self-driving vehicle.

This article will explain everything you need to know about driverless car accident lawsuits in California, including possible liable parties and recoverable damages. 

Were you injured in an accident with a self-driving car? Contact Case Barnett Law at (949) 409-0055 to explore your legal options with an experienced Costa Mesa car accident attorney today.

What Are the Six Levels of Autonomous Vehicles?

Not all self-driving cars are equally autonomous. The SAE International divides motor vehicles into different the following categories:

  • Level 0. Level 0 cars are conventional motor vehicles that are not self-driving, although some can provide safety warnings and may have automated emergency braking.
  • Level 1. Level 1 automation refers to driver assistance, meaning the car can either control speed or steering but not at the same time. Adaptive cruise control and lane assist technology are examples of Level 1 automation. 
  • Level 2. Level 2 automation refers to cars controlling speed and steering simultaneously in certain circumstances, such as below a set speed limit. These cars may have adaptive cruise control and lane-centering technologies that work simultaneously as parking assistance.
  • Level 3. Level 3 automation applies to vehicles with conditional automation, meaning it can control speed and steering simultaneously and monitor its surroundings. As a result, these cars can drive on their own under certain conditions but still require the driver to pay attention. 
  • Level 4. Level 4 cars are highly automated and self-driving, capable of handling most driving conditions. When the car cannot drive (in extreme weather), it implements safety measures such as pulling over and stopping rather than having the driver take over. 
  • Level 5. Level 5 represents the highest level of automation and can drive itself in all conditions. 

If you were in an accident involving an automated vehicle, understanding that vehicle’s level of automation will be crucial information in determining liability. Determining liability is the first step to pursuing compensation. 

Who Is Responsible for Driverless Car Accidents?

Before determining the at-fault party in a driverless car accident case, you must understand how California views liability. The Golden State operates under the legal concept of pure comparative negligence, which says that multiple parties can be found at fault and hold their respective percentages of liability.

With that in mind, fault in an auto accident involving an even partially automated vehicle depends on several factors. One of those factors is whether or not any of the vehicles involved violated traffic laws at the time of the accident. 

Possible Liable Parties in Driverless Vehicle Accidents

Determining the at-fault party in a driverless vehicle accident can be complex, so it’s typically a good idea to work with an experienced car accident lawyer who can conduct a thorough investigation. Your attorney may determine that any of the parties described below are partially or fully liable for an accident.

The Operator of a Partially Autonomous Vehicle

Most autonomous vehicles on the road require a human operator, which California defines as the person sitting in the driver’s seat. Under California Vehicle Code 38750, operators must be able to take complete control over the autonomous vehicle in an emergency, including control over the brakes, steering wheel, and accelerator. Failure to take control of the vehicle may leave the operator liable for the accident.

The Driver of a Non-Autonomous Car

Under California law, drivers must watch out for pedestrians, obstacles in the road, and other vehicles, including self-driving cars. Drivers who fail to exercise reasonable care may be liable for any resulting accidents. Drivers must also abide by California traffic laws, including speed limits; violating them may be evidence of negligence. 

The Driverless Vehicle Company or Car Manufacturer

Regardless of whether they manufacture automated or conventional cars, car companies may be held liable for car accidents caused by defects in their product, according to California’s product liability laws. Driverless vehicles may have several manufacturing defects, including software bugs, system failures, and barriers to allowing the driver to take control in emergencies. 

External Parties

In some automated car accidents, the liable party isn’t a driver, operator, or manufacturer. For example, if a construction company creates an impassable obstacle and fails to use adequate signage or warnings, that company may be held responsible for accidents. Similarly, a government entity that fails to maintain reasonably safe roads may be liable for accidents resulting from unsafe roadways. 

Recovering Compensation in Driverless Vehicle Lawsuits

Personal injury lawsuits (including car accident lawsuits) allow the plaintiff to file a claim for damages. Most damages in these cases are compensatory, meaning they’re designed to compensate an injury victim for their accident-related losses. 

There are two primary types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic. Whereas monetary damages refer to easily calculable losses such as medical expenses, non-economic damages are reserved for intangible losses that evade a dollar amount. Damages in driverless car accidents may include the following:

  • Lost wages and loss of future earning capacity
  • Medical treatment, including accident-related medical bills, therapies, and medications, as well as future medical treatments
  • Property damage, including vehicle damage and destruction of other personal items 
  • Pain and suffering, including loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and emotional distress
  • Loss of a limb, disability and disfigurement
  • Court costs

In rare cases, the court may also award punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages aren’t designed to compensate the injury victim but to punish the defendant. However, these damages are reserved for cases where the defendant displayed egregious, wanton, or malicious behavior.

Case Barnett Law: Driverless Car Accident Attorneys in Southern California

Like it or not, driverless cars are here to stay. While they offer many potential benefits to travelers and society, they also present several legal challenges, especially in infancy. Luckily, the Costa Mesa personal injury attorney team at Case Barnett Law is up to the task. 

If you’ve been injured in a car accident involving a driverless vehicle, you have options. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be eligible to receive compensation that will aid in your recovery. Our attorneys can help explore your options. 

Ready to get started? Contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation, or call our law office at (949) 409-0055 to speak with a compassionate legal professional today.

Case C. Barnett
Costa Mesa Personal Injury Attorney practicing in child injury law, car accident injuries and elder abuse law
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