The emergence of the driverless car will be accompanied by a shift in the focus of liability insurance from personal fault to product safety, according to a Boston-based law professor.
Professor Michael Rustad, the Thomas F. Lambert Jr. Professor of Law and co-director of the Intellectual Property Law Concentration at Suffolk University Law School, also foresees personal injury attorneys having to change their practices if the new cars live up to predictions that they will greatly reduce collisions.
“Auto accidents make up the single largest category of state tort claims,” said Rustad, who teaches high technology law, cyberspace law, and torts. “We can be assured that self-driving cars are going to be much safer, and they’re coming online sooner than many people realize.”
He predicts that legal action will shift from driver-involved accident claims to claims against car and component part manufacturers, including the software vendors.
“We seldom see car accident cases that involve product liability today, but in time nearly every vehicle accident will generate a product liability case,” Rustad said.
He speculates that, in time, there could be a limited liability system created to afford protection to auto makers, similar to the federal Vaccine Act, which offers limited recovery to those who suffer adverse effects from vaccines through a victims’ compensation fund. Yet he warns that giving car makers comprehensive immunity could lead them to avoid responsibility. And he notes that, even if there were a software defect, a driver with hands on the wheel might easily make a correction, and that should be a factor to be considered.