We here at Abnormal Use have blogged a few times now about Google’s attempt at a driverless car and the implications such a development might have on product liability law. The question we posed to you, dear readers, is this: when the law has developed around the [perceived] limits of technology, and that technology moves beyond that body of law, what happens? When the driverless car crashes, who is responsible–can the owner of the car that caused the accident turn around and sue the manufacturer for a manufacturing or design defect? Read our prior posts for our thoughts on those general issues.
News alert: We may soon find out. As recently reported by Wired, BMW is also testing a so-called “autonomous vehicle” and has outfitted a 5- series sedan with technology that enables the car to navigate heavy traffic, or in an emergency. As such, the technology may not be intended to totally replace the driver, unlike the Google technology. The BMW only takes over when driving becomes a chore: in a traffic jam. The BMW is also not as well traveled as the Google car; BMW has put only 3,100 miles on its sedan’s odometer, while the Google car has more than 140,000.
Still, it’s further evidence that this is one direction in which automobile technology is headed, and product law must be prepared. And yet, here is a thought: is the current state of product liability law already equipped to handle such a question? The fundamental question of any products case is always this: what caused the injury or damage? There are a number of possibilities – the design is bad, the manufacture of the particular product was shoddy, the owner failed to maintain the product, or it was simple operator error. If we consider this the basic universe of theories, then is the law ready to handle the driverless car crash today?