Plaintiff Attorneys Stake Out Position on Driverless Cars

The American Association for Justice (AAJ), a nonprofit advocacy and lobbying organization for plaintiff lawyers in the United States, recently issued a report on driverless cars and the future of liability. The report, titled “Driven to Safety: Robot Cars and the Future of Liability,” opens by noting that more than 2 million people are injured and more than 30,000 killed in 6 million automobile crashes on U.S. roads every year. Robotic cars, the report notes, could potentially prevent 90 percent of crashes and save thousands of lives. Without human drivers, or insurance policies to match, traditional approaches to liability may have to evolve. Of the many legal and industry changes forecast, the AAJ advocates for a strict liability approach to future automobile crashes and discourages talk of manufacturer immunity. As the AAJ correctly notes, under most strict liability regimes, a claimant need only prove the tort occurred and that the defendant is responsible.

In Louisiana, La. C.C. art. 2317.1, enacted in 1996, effectively abrogated the concept of “strict liability” in cases involving defective things and imposed a negligence standard based on the owner or custodian’s knowledge or constructive knowledge of the defect. The surviving strict liability regime under revised La. C.C. art. 667 is restricted to pile driving and the use of explosives. The Louisiana legislature has yet to address this “strict liability” concept for driverless cars.

Eric W. Sella