Self-driving cars could radically change auto insurance

Self-driving cars and trucks promise to make the roads in California and around the country safer in the years ahead, and autonomous vehicle technology is also poised to change the way automobile accident claims are handled according to industry experts. Car accident lawsuits today are generally filed against negligent drivers or their auto insurance companies, but injured road users in the future may be more likely to sue software developers or driverless car builders.

Autonomous vehicle technology also raises a number of security concerns. Even coordinated bands of car thieves are only able to target small groups of vehicles, but hackers could potentially compromise thousands of autonomous cars with a single keystroke. Safety experts are also worried about the possibility of hackers taking control of self-driving cars and crashing them deliberately.

Companies like Tesla, Mercedes and Google understand that they must address these liability issues before they can sell fully autonomous vehicles in the United States, and many of the leaders in the field have made financial pledges to stand behind their products. However, some road safety advocates view these assurances as little more than marketing gimmicks, and they wonder how car makers and software developers would really react to a wave of accidents and product liability lawsuits.

While the defendants in product liability lawsuits often have deep pockets, they may also have much to lose. Losing this type of case in open court could erode consumer confidence and leave corporate reputations in tatters, and experienced personal injury attorneys may urge their clients to enter into nondisclosure agreements when generous settlement offers have been made. Manufacturers may also wish to settle product liability disputes quickly to avoid the punitive damages that are sometimes awarded in these cases, and attorneys could remind them of this consideration if settlement negotiations are not proceeding smoothly.

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