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Autonomous driving: understanding contributory negligence and product liability

In the modern age of automation, it’s increasingly common to find driving activities being performed by computers. This transfer of responsibility has caused the burden of safety and regulation to rest largely on the shoulders of automakers and software developers. This newfound development has sparked new legal questions, as the manufacturers and users of these cars are trying to ascertain what constitutes “safe driving,” who is liable in cases of accidents or damage to other vehicles and other issues.

For companies, this means they can be held accountable for any harm or property destruction that could result from an inoperable automated car. To protect both companies and drivers, businesses need to comply with legislation and invest in training, certifications, and the right technology.

Contributory negligence vs. product liability

When it comes to autonomous driving litigation, there are two concepts to explain who is at fault: contributory negligence and product liability.  If an autonomous car malfunctions due to a defective product and causes an accident, the business can be liable for any property damage or personal injury that results. However, while using the autonomous car, the user does not properly follow the instructions or uses the vehicle in a way other than what it was made for, and an accident ensues- they are held liable for their negligence. 

To prove that contributory negligence took place- it must be proven that the user acted carelessly regarding the product. For example, if the owner of an autonomous vehicle wasn’t keeping up with the maintenance and wasn’t following the instructions provided by the maker, they will be responsible for the damages caused. Consequently, in cases of product liability, the company producing the technology is answerable for any injuries or destruction that their product may have caused.

Financially protecting your business

To protect against such risks, businesses should be familiar with the legal aspects of contributory negligence and product liability and must guarantee that their products are free from defects and contain warnings about any potential hazards that are properly communicated. By following these guidelines, businesses will save themselves not only the expensive and potentially damaging costs of legal battles, but also the revenue losses that invariably come with a reputation of having inferior quality or even unsafe products.

Unavoidably, the concept of autonomous driving technology comes with risks and liabilities that need to be accounted for. By having a quality assurance process, complying with all the safety laws and informing customers of the risks that they take on and the responsibilities they have to be safe as possible, businesses can avoid costly litigation.