Driverless Cars (Redux)

car accident flier.jpgI am preparing for a trial and swore I wouldn’t have time for anything as frivolous as a blog post until trial is over, but when I learned that Abnormal Use, the defense side legal blog that is the darling of The New York Times, National Public Radio and Jackie Childs (I’m in too much of a hurry to hunt for the links explaining the back stories to Abnormal Use‘s well-deserved blogospheric celebrity), had posted a response to a blog post of mine about driverless cars, I felt compelled to post a rejoinder to the folks at Gallivan, White & Boyd.
As Abnormal contributor and GWB attorney Frances Zacher points out, it is rather incongruous for me, as a plaintiff’s lawyer, to be calling for immunity for the manufacturers of driverless cars. But what can I say? I really want to see driverless cars ASAP. There’s nothing I’d like more than to have my time in the car be time where I can get something done – whether it’s working on a memo or watching a DVD. And driverless cars might make that happen.
I agree with Zacher that my proposal would grant immunity to the party “at fault” (the car manufacturer who is to blame for the defective software). It’s an interesting point and I wonder how I can square my position on immunity for manufacturers of driverless cars with my view that caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases violate the Plaintiff’s Due Process right (some would say natural right) to be made whole by the party who wronged her and many other positions I hold — positions that depend on the basic moral insight that Zacher affirms.
I thought that pseudonymous Abnormal commenter John Galt also made a very good point in a comment to the post: Couldn’t we invoke the last clear chance doctrine in some driverless car accidents? I guess I was envisioning the type of driverless car accident where one driverless car suddenly swerves into the opposite lane and neither driver has time to override the machine. But certainly there are a variety of accidents that might not conform to the scenario that I envisioned: accidents where a driverless car malfunctions and the driver has time and opportunity to avoid the collision but does not. I would certainly agree that a different set of liability rules should apply to such a scenario and Galt’s comment suggests that maybe the courts should deal with driverless car accidents on a case-by-case basis in common law fashion. That said, I would reject Galt’s proposed doctrine inasmuch as it would require vigilance on the part of the human “driver” of a driverless car. To my mind, the point of having a driverless car would be to enable the human “driver” to devote his time to other tasks (email, etc.) rather than to navigating the roadways. If a driver constantly had to have his or her finger poised over the Emergency Override button, it would sort of defeat the purpose of a driverless car.
Now back to my regularly scheduled trial prep. Until trial is over, our faithful readers (who make up for in devotion what they lack in numbers) will be treated to the musings of colleague, Patrick Banfield, and some canned/set-to-publish blog posts by me. Even further attention from the blogerati at Abnormal shall not drag me from my seclusion.
PS I know the picture is of a flying, rather than a driverless, car, but I’m in a hurry.

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