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  • Writer's pictureBrad Keating

Who Is at Fault in a Self-Driving Car Accident?

Updated: Jan 17

Autonomous vehicles have become increasingly popular in the US. Unfortunately, even the best technology can falter and result in car crashes. In the case of self-driving vehicles, it can be complicated when pursuing a claim to determine who is at fault.

Someone who has been involved in a self-driving car accident should contact an experienced attorney to discuss case specifics and find the best way to proceed. The Keating Law Firm offers a free case evaluation to all car accident victims, including those who had a car accident in a company car, so don't delay launching a claim.

Determining who is at fault in a car crash involving an autonomous vehicle takes a thorough investigation, and every case is different. Here is a brief overview of what to expect in this type of case and possible liable parties.

Key Takeaways

  • Various parties may be liable for an incident of this kind, and every case is unique.

  • Self-driving cars cause more accidents than human driver cars, despite the effort to reduce risk.

  • The liability in a self-driving car accident is complicated and depends on several impacting factors.

  • If one driver involved in an accident is at fault due to human error, they are liable for the damages regardless of the type of car.

  • Defective autonomous vehicles that cause accidents are the fault of the manufacturer, and they are liable for all damages.

  • Because no self-driving cars in the US are fully autonomous and function entirely without human operators, a thorough investigation into the cause of an accident is required to determine liability.

  • Fatal accidents are rare in self-driving cars, and most injuries tend to be minor.

  • If a manufacturer is found to be at fault, it is possible to sue the company directly.

How Do Self-Driving Car Accidents Differ from Normal Car Accidents?

How Do Self-Driving Car Accidents Differ from Normal Car Accidents?

The key difference between a self-driving car accident and a car accident with traditional vehicles with a human driver is the element of risk that comes with possible malfunctions. If a car driving on cruise control is involved in an accident, there is a chance that the driver of the vehicle is not responsible.

Fully autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) are not currently allowed on US public roadways, but self-driving technology is becoming more advanced and more popular every year. Human error is still a possible factor in a self-driving car accident, but other elements may be involved.

In a normal car accident, there is usually an at-fault driver or multiple drivers who are solely responsible for the crash. It may be the case with self-driving cars that the car accident was caused, at least in part, by the autonomous vehicle.

After a car crash between two human drivers, the settlement is negotiated between the insurance companies of each individual party. However, in a crash caused by a self-driving vehicle, the claim may fall partially or fully to the manufacturer's insurance company. Serious crashes involving a self-driving car with multiple injured victims can become more complicated depending on the circumstances of the accident. There are also crashes that cause minor problems such as a soft tissue injury—but can be a bigger deal later on.

Possible Causes of Self-Driving Car Accidents

Like any car accident, there are many things that can cause a crash. Many of the possible causes are the same regardless of whether or not a vehicle is a self-driving car or has a human driver. There are, however, some additional factors to consider with autonomous vehicle crashes.

Who is at fault in a self-driving car accident depends largely on the circumstances. Here are several possible factors.

Human Error

Most self-driving cars have only partial automation, meaning there is still human intervention involved, and the driver could be held responsible for the accident. Even an advanced driver assistance system requires a backup driver on some level, so a person who does not pay attention could be the responsible party.

Although self-driving vehicles are designed to remove human error as much as possible, it is essential for the person behind the steering wheel to remain alert. If a car accident occurs involving a self-driving car and it transpires that the car's operator played some role, they are considered partially or fully responsible.

When multiple cars are affected in an incident, it is essential to look at every party. It may not be the fault of the owner of the driverless car or the vehicle itself, so exploring every avenue is a must.

Vehicle Malfunction

It is possible for a self-driving vehicle to malfunction during use, which can, of course, lead to a crash. There are rare cases when autonomous cars lose control of their functions, and even the backup driver cannot do anything about it. Luckily this is not a common occurrence, but it can potentially lead to a serious accident and an injured victim.

When a self-driving car accident happens because the vehicle malfunctions, the manufacturer is liable. Depending on the severity of the incident, the issuing company can face serious legal repercussions.

Extreme accidents such as rollover crashes and multi-car pileups have happened in the US because of a malfunctioning driverless car. In these cases, the payout almost always falls to the insurance company representing the manufacturer. It is possible, in some cases, to sue the company directly.

Design Defect

Another instance when the manufacturer of the self-driving vehicle is liable is when testing exposes a defect in the design of the car. Something in the car's control system or technology may be poorly executed or fail to meet safety standards.

If a driverless car is involved in an accident and the inspection shows a fault in the overall design, the manufacturer becomes liable. They may face payout not only for the damages caused by the crash but also for causing unreasonable risk due to poor design.

Some design defects require a product-wide recall. If this happens, it may also impact the eventual settlement agreement.


All driverless vehicle designs are thoroughly inspected for validation purposes and health and safety before being approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In exceptional cases, something may be overlooked.

These reviews can potentially save lives and drastically reduce the risk of a self-driving car accident. Safety and quality control standards on all automated vehicles are highly detailed to avoid the chance of a crash.

It can happen in extremely rare circumstances that something is missed by either the manufacturer or the administration. If this happens, they could be liable. That said, driver error can contribute to the chance of a small oversight turning into something dangerous, so liability must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Claiming for Accidents in Self-Driving Vehicles

Anybody involved in a self-driving vehicle crash for any reason should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The vehicle is likely to be taken for inspection immediately following the incident to determine if something contributed to the cause of the accident.

There is often a great deal of emotional trauma following any vehicle crash, but it should not delay a person from pursuing their claim. These car crash cases proceed almost identically to that of a human driver vehicle crash, with the addition of the car investigation.

If the driver believes they had nothing to do with the accident, they should gather as much proof as they can to boost their claim. It is worth contacting the Keating Law Firm to arrange a free consultation if in any doubt about how to proceed.

Remember, these cases can be complicated, so it is highly beneficial to have experienced auto accident lawyers in Columbus OH on the team.

What Is Claimable in Accidents in Self-Driving Cars?

What Is Claimable in Accidents in Self-Driving Cars?

A victim can claim the same types of damages in a self-driving car accident as they would in a crash involving other vehicles. There are two categories that compensation can fall into: economical and non-economical.

Economical damages have a clear monetary value. They may include things such as medical bills, car repairs, lost wages, and the cost of any ongoing treatment or prescription that results from the crash.

Non-economical damages are more difficult to quantify. These claims are where automobile accident lawyers can assist and make a significant difference. Some examples of non-economical damages a victim may be able to claim for include mental distress, impacted quality of life, and pain and suffering.

Contact The Keating Law Firm Today for Legal Advice and Dedicated Representation

Don't wait to arrange a free consultation with the Keating Law Firm to discuss the details of your case. Our team boasts some of the best legal minds in this field, and we are proud to fight for our clients.

Self-driving vehicles make car crash claims more complex because of the various potential at-fault parties. Luckily, we have the expertise and experience to navigate and negotiate a favorable settlement.

Whether you are the driver of an autonomous vehicle or are involved in an incident with another car of this type, our dedicated experts are here for you.

Arrange your free consultation today!


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