On the night of March 18, 2018, the inevitable happened: One of Uber’s self-driving cars caused a fatal car accident. The incident, which happened in Tempe, Arizona, killed a pedestrian who was crossing the road.
The crash is significant because we are finally going to see how a court will decide who was responsible for the crash. The decision can impact self-driving car law for decades.
Self-Driving Vehicle Involved in Car Accident that Kills Pedestrian
49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking her bike across the street at 10pm on Sunday, March 18, 2018. Importantly, she was not in a crosswalk. On the road was a Volvo XC90, which was equipped with Uber’s self-driving system. Inside the car was a safety driver whose job was to take control of the vehicle if it seemed like an accident was likely. That safety driver was 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, who had been convicted for armed robbery and was released from jail in 2005.
Uber’s vehicle crashed into Ms. Herzberg before she could successfully cross the street. The car was traveling 40mph just before the collision, and did not seem to slow down before the impact. The speed limit on the road was 45mph, and the weather conditions at the time of the crash were clear and dry.
What Happens Next: A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The next thing that we can expect is a wrongful death lawsuit being filed by Ms. Herzberg’s next of kin or immediate family. Importantly, these lawsuits do not settle as often as regular personal injury claims do, because the victims are more interested in getting justice, rather than just having medical expenses paid.
The Big Question: Who Is Liable?
The long-lasting implications of the incident will revolve around who the court finds responsible for the crash. Whoever is responsible—the pedestrian, the safety driver, or Uber—will be liable for the costs of the accident and have to compensate Ms. Herzberg’s representatives in the case.
Here are some possible outcomes:
- The pedestrian was responsible. She was not using a crosswalk, and evidently did not choose to cross at a safe time, as the self-driving car was going under the speed limit.
- The safety driver was responsible. The safety driver was in the self-driving vehicle to take control if a crash was imminent. Additionally, there is likely a provision in the employment contract between the safety driver and Uber that tries to pin liability for any accident on the driver. However, the fact that the safety driver in this case was a convicted felon should be irrelevant to the case: The conviction was for armed robbery, not for any driving offense.
- Uber was responsible. The company put these self-driving vehicles on the road, in the first place. Additionally, because they stand to gain the most from the development of self-driving cars and are in the best position to fully compensate victims, holding them liable makes sense.
Responsibility for the crash can also be split amongst the three. For example, Uber could be 60% responsible for the crash, while the pedestrian and safety driver are both 20% responsible. In Arizona, this would mean Uber would have to pay 60% of Ms. Herzberg’s recovery, the safety driver would pay 20%, and the remaining 20% would go unrecovered.
Car Accident Attorneys in St. Joseph, Missouri
The personal injury and car accident attorneys at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph, Missouri are watching this case closely. Call them at (816) 875-9373 or contact them online if you need legal representation after a car crash.