Maryland Autonomous Car Accidents
Lead by giants like Elon Musk, autonomous vehicles are perhaps not just a pipe dream. Eventually, Uber or some other rideshare app could even adopt the technology. But how does this affect personal injury law? How does the law react to such a radical change in society? In the United States, we follow a common law system. This means the courts interpret statutes the legislature introduces, and we build upon that based on how judges rule on future Maryland autonomous car accidents.
The legal system has been handling technological advances since the turn of the century. With the advent of the internet, contract haw has evolved in numerous ways. For example, courts have considered whether simply clicking a box that reads “I agree to the terms and conditions” without even opening the term sheet should bind a user to those terms. One of the great things about our legal system is its ability to adapt to whatever issue the world faces, whether it comes to the right result or not. While Maryland has been a bit resistant to availing itself to autonomous vehicles, Virginia has opened roughly 70 miles of road designated for autonomous vehicles to run parallel with state highways. Despite being state highways however, these roads are subject to the dormant commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Autonomous Car Accidents – Overview
The industry has a zero to five rating system detailing the varying levels of autonomy in motor vehicles as set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (“AES”). Level zero equates to no automation, while level five equates to full automation. As of 2023, Google’s Waymo and Musk’s Tesla are both at level two. Level two equates to partial automation. This is when the vehicle helps with one or more systems while the motorist does the rest. Waymo predicts it will not have Level four or five cars available to the public for another 20 to 30 years. Autonomous vehicles leading to car accidents can be unpredictable because humans are unpredictable. There is a limitless number of variables an operator of a motor vehicles needs to be aware of.
In general, a driver has a duty to control his or her vehicle in a reasonably prudent manner based on surrounding circumstances. That driver owes the duty to all foreseeable plaintiffs. If the driver breaches that duty, and the breach both actually and proximately causes an injury, the driver is liable for negligence. Autonomous car accidents may change that in the future for Maryland law. In 2018, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) stated, “compliance with federal safety standards does not automatically exempt any person from liability at common law, including tort liability for harm caused by negligent conduct.” Of course, while the DOT says regarding common law is non-binding, it may be persuasive in court. Ultimately, we will not know what the law looks like for each issue relating to autonomous vehicles until a federal court rules on each one.
Common Carrier Liability
In general, the law regarding common carriers is an extra high degree of care toward passengers or guests. For a regular driver, a driver owes a duty of mere ordinary care. So, what is a common carrier? Examples include a bus, a train, plane, or ferry. Beyond the heightened duty of care, common carriers are under a duty to use reasonable care to aid or assist passengers. This is distinguishable from a regular citizen. In general, a regular citizen does not have a legal duty to rescue someone he or she sees in peril. Meanwhile, a common carrier does. This is a public policy decision in the law designed to place more responsibility on mass transit. Moreover, common carriers are unable to limit their liability for personal injury by a disclaimer. This is imperative to remember when considering the legal analysis of manufacturers of autonomous vehicles.
Applying this general law to autonomous vehicles, manufacturers should be extra diligent moving forward and opening this technology to the public. If common carrier liability is applied to manufacturers such as Tesla and Waymo, that could be a high level of liability. While some states are pushing for the innovation and appear less concerned with autonomous car accidents, others like Maryland are aware of the difficulty in perfecting the technology and the associated danger for pedestrians and other drivers.
Final Thoughts on Autonomous Car Accidents
While some states are encouraging innovation, this will likely become a federal issue due to the commerce clause of the Constitution. Moreover, manufacturers of autonomous vehicles are akin to common carriers and will likely be held to a higher standard for autonomous car accidents in Maryland. But as of now in 2023, the future for this field of law remains undetermined. If you are in an accident with an autonomous vehicle, reach out to personal injury lawyer Roger Gelb for the most up-to-date law in your state.