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If You are Hit by an Autonomous Vehicle, Who is to Blame? 

By Burg Simpson
March 1, 2022
7 min read

If You are Hit by an Autonomous Vehicle, Who is to Blame? 

Criminal Matter or Product Liability Case?

In January of 2022, a criminal case in California was filed against a driver who was involved in a fatal collision while operating his self-driving autonomous vehicle (AV). A self-driving car, also known as an autonomous vehicle, is defined as a driverless car that can sense its environment and moving safely with little or no human input. In 2019, two people lost their lives when the driver ran a red light while using his Tesla’s autopilot AV system. He has since been charged with vehicular manslaughter, and the criminal charges filed against him are among the first to involve a driver using AV technology.

Man vs. Machine

The autopilot system was not mentioned in the charges against the 27-year-old man because this is a criminal case. Criminal law addresses the behavior of individuals, not the malfunctioning of machines. However, the question remains, is this also a product liability case? Is it possible that the defense attorneys will argue this point and attempt to hold those who designed and/or manufactured the AV technology liable for the death of the two individuals? Or will prosecutors claim that our automobiles AV systems are within human control, and it was the driver’s responsibility to maneuver his car safely?

Elon Musk Promises to Add New Software to Tesla

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk recently said Tesla’s most important products this year and next will not be cars, but the new software that drives cars autonomously.

Philip Koopman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who is working on autonomous vehicle safety, commented on the risks of self-driving vehicles and said, “Without a human driver to handle safety for novel situations the machine learning hasn’t been taught already, it’s very difficult to ensure safety in a completely automated vehicle.”

When Tesla added video games in a software update that was sent to most of its cars in the summer of 2021, Jonathan Adkins, the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which coordinates state efforts to promote safe driving said, “It’s a big concern if the game plays in view of the driver.” Tesla’s new video games that can be played by either the driver or by a passenger from the dashboard have raised questions about whether Tesla is compromising safety as it rushes to add new technologies and features to its cars. Tesla and the entire auto industry are facing now major challenges in this arena, from technology to regulation.

New Legislation to Address Autopilot Systems is Necessary

AV safety risks continue to be discussed by our lawmakers. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit recently addressed the future of AVs and how to reduce injuries and fatalities on our roads and highways. Those on Capitol Hill recognize the importance of passing new legislation to establish minimum performance standards and enforce safeguards to protect the public. Now our lawmakers must get to work to ensure the safety of all those who use our nation’s roadways and protect everyone from those who rely solely on their AV systems to navigate their vehicles.

What is a Product Liability Lawsuit?

 A product liability lawsuit is a legal action that a consumer brings against the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of a product that injures them due to design, manufacture, or marketing defects. While some product liability lawsuits are individual actions, others are filed as a class-action lawsuits by a group of plaintiffs.

Types of Product Defects That Cause Injury

Product defects that cause injuries to consumers fall into three categories:

  • Design defects: These defects arise when a manufacturer designs a product that makes it inherently dangerous. Design defect claims are independent of the manufacturing process. Cars, recreational equipment, consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and heavy equipment are a few products that hit the market with bad designs. These defects often lead to a safety recall by the manufacturer or regulators.
  • Manufacturing defects: These flaws are a result of the manufacturing process. Manufacturing defects typically affect just a few of the company’s products. For example, a food processing plant that fails to clean or maintain its equipment correctly can be held liable for contaminating a product with deadly bacteria.
  • Failure-to-warn defects: Manufacturers and sellers can also be held liable when they fail to warn buyers or consumers that their products can be inherently dangerous. Consumers are used to seeing product warnings on nearly everything they buy. Vehicles, recreational equipment, baby products, toys, pharmaceuticals, and other consumer products pose dangers that lead to severe injury or death.

Recoverable Damages in a Product Liability Case

Product liability actions are complex, and establishing negligence often requires the assistance and testimony of industry experts. Additionally, every state now has its own laws and statutes that will affect a product liability action.

When you hire a product liability trial attorney at Burg Simpson to represent you in your claim for damages, you may be able to recover the following damages in your product liability case:

  • Medical expenses (past and future)
  • Reduced earning capability
  • Lost wages

Call Burg Simpson’s Product Liability Lawyers for Help Now

Product liability lawsuit cases are complicated and expensive endeavors. Burg Simpson’s product liability lawyers collectively have handled hundreds of these kinds of cases. If you have been injured by a defective product, call Burg Simpson for help now: Call (866) 649-8734 or complete our FREE case evaluation form at

About Burg Simpson’s Founder, Michael S. Burg 

Burg Simpson was founded in 1976 by distinguished American trial lawyer Michael Burg. Mr. Burg is an inductee in the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Clarence Darrow Award. He has also been named to the 2016 RoundTable: America’s 50 Most Influential Trial Lawyers by The Trial Lawyer magazine; Law Week’s “Barrister’s Best” as “Best Civil Litigator”; and one of “America’s 50 Leading Trial Lawyers” by the U.S. Legal 500. Mr. Burg has also been recognized by Best Lawyers in America® and Super Lawyers®. Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine now has more than 70 lawyers and over 90 legal professionals. The firm is based in Colorado and has offices in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, California, and Wyoming.

About Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine

One of America’s foremost plaintiff trial firms, Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, has a longstanding and nationwide reputation for fighting relentlessly and successfully for victims of negligence, malfeasance, malpractice, and abuse. Our attorneys have never hesitated to fight for our client’s rights and consistently face and defeat formidable adversaries that include big insurance companies, big banks, and big pharma. Burg Simpson has secured more than $2.7 billion in verdicts, settlements, and judgments in practice areas spanning product liability, catastrophic personal injury, mass tort and class actions regarding gas explosions, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs and devices, medical malpractice, complex commercial and business litigation, construction defects, and workers’ compensation. The firm’s success has also included more than 200 recoveries in excess of $1 million.

Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine now has more than 75 lawyers and over 90 legal professionals. The firm is based in Colorado and has offices in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, California, and Wyoming.

Contact Burg Simpson for Help Now at 888 895 2080

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