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Automated Vehicle Fender Benders: Consumers Want Clarity on Liability

Automated Vehicle Fender Benders: Consumers Want Clarity on Liability

By Joseph Dobrian, March 21, 2018
The continuing development and evolution of automated driving systems (ADS) will rapidly lead to changes in government regulations and industry practices, and will increase the likelihood that human drivers are obsolescent, according to a just-published report entitled “Automated Vehicles: Liability Crash Course”—a joint effort by J.D. Power and the global law firm of Miller Canfield. The growth of ADS will also almost certainly change the legal landscape for consumers, automakers, attorneys, insurance companies, and others.

The report is the result of a research project led by Miller Canfield and J.D. Power in collaboration with Mcity, a vehicle research and testing center based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Miller Canfield is one of the first law firms to establish a practice group specifically focused on addressing the legal needs of the rapidly growing ADS industry. The results of this collaborative endeavor illustrate the vision of Mcity: forming partnerships with industry-, community-, and government-related parties to advance all aspects of the future of transportation and mobility.

The report centers on liability issues affecting ADS, with a particular focus on how ADS product liability claims may be resolved—as well as which data are most useful in reconstructing ADS accidents. According to the report, consumers are wary of ADS for fear of technology failures, which they fear could lead to injury and liability issues. They apparently hope to find ways to resolve ADS product liability claims out of court.

Litigators Weigh In
J.D. Power surveyed more than 1,500 drivers who provided feedback regarding automated vehicle technology and their willingness to participate in alternative dispute resolution programs, as opposed to pursuing their claims through litigation. The study also obtained the viewpoints of top product liability litigators on the practical implications of litigating ADS product liability claims.

“Consumers are far more likely to settle product liability claims out of court, as long as they feel that there is transparency and fairness in the process,” said Zlatina Georgieva, product liability and regulatory compliance attorney at Miller Canfield and co-author of the report.

“Sentiment remains fragile towards automated vehicles as consumers are cautious and the need to build trust continues,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of Human Machine Interface at J.D. Power and co-author of the report. “Consumers express an expectation that collisions would not occur with automated vehicles and are holding ADS to a higher safety standard than traditional vehicles.”

The report includes a detailed analysis of consumer and litigator viewpoints, and employs historical crash data—as well as lessons learned from other industries and prior automotive litigation—to suggest proactive solutions for adapting to technological advancements. It also urges the legal community to use its talents to encourage the progress of automated driving technology.

Key Findings
Consumers divide pretty equally on the question of whether they would ride in a fully automated, self-driving vehicle, with 14% saying they “definitely would,” and 33% saying they “probably would” compared with 29% saying they “probably would not,” and 17% saying they “definitely would not.”

One-third of drivers surveyed say they would be willing to take additional training for an ADS driver’s license designation. More than half (51%) would pursue litigation for a Level 5 fully automated vehicle if it were involved in a collision and caused an injury.  For this research, Level 5 is described as a vehicle where there is no human driver inside (only passengers); there is no steering wheel; and the vehicle remains in control for the entire trip without any human intervention. For lower levels of automation, most consumers are unsure about pursuing litigation.

Claims resolved in an out-of-court, private proceeding with a one-time lump sum settlement represent an optimal consumer resolution method for ADS, regardless of injury type.
Nearly three-fourths (74%) of consumers are willing to share ADS vehicle data after a collision.

Consumer Tips

Based on the report, J.D. Power offers the following consumer tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the current state of ADS technology, and how it is likely to evolve in the next few years, before making a purchase decision—and be sure you feel completely comfortable with managing an ADS vehicle before you commit to a purchase.
  • Investigate the various levels of automation that are available, the reliability of each level, and what other options might be available in a few years.
  • Educate yourself on liability issues connected with ADS technology, and how those issues might differ from the liability issues that attend on owning and driving a conventional vehicle.

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