How Do You Sue in an Autonomous Car Accident?

Professor, Alum Discuss Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on ‘Common Law’ Podcast
Driverless car

Mike Raschid ’86, chief legal officer and vice president of operations for Perrone Robotics, demonstrates a self-driving car on a test track. Photo by Julia Davis

May 7, 2019

Driverless cars may not only alter American culture, but transform liability law and car insurance, as the latest episode of “Common Law” reveals.

On Episode 6, University of Virginia School of Law professor Kenneth Abraham and alumnus Michael Raschid ’86, chief legal officer and vice president of operations for Perrone Robotics, look at what changes are in store with the increasing use of autonomous vehicles.

Abraham, a leading scholar in torts and insurance law, co-authored a Virginia Law Review article proposing a new insurance regime, called Manufacturer Enterprise Responsibility, which places liability for accidents on manufacturers in the coming age of automation.

With 80% of accidents caused by driver negligence, insurance today revolves around the idea that the driver or drivers at fault must pay for repairs or injuries.

“What’s going to happen over time is that more and more accidents will be caused by the vehicle rather than by the driver because there will be fewer and fewer drivers,” Abraham says in the podcast. “Hopefully — this is certainly what gets predicted — the accident rate’s going to go way down.”

In Abraham’s proposed plan, manufacturers would compensate victims through an administrative process rather than through lawsuits.

Perrone Robotics develops software for autonomous vehicles from its headquarters in Crozet, Virginia. Raschid and the company are piloting an autonomous vehicle shuttle program in the Charlottesville area, called Tony, which stands for “To Navigate You.”

The software is “the brains of an autonomous car,” Raschid explains in the show.

“The critical questions will come when you really [have vehicles] run without any human intervention,” Raschid says. “Will artificial intelligence be recognized as a legal person?”

The guests also talk about the levels of autonomy consumers can expect in their cars, and when; how Abraham’s plan is similar to workers’ compensation; how manufacturers will be motivated to reduce production errors if they are liable; and what a world without typical auto liability insurance would look like.

Hosted by Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06, “Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular places you can listen to podcasts, including Amazon Alexa devices.

You can follow the show on the website commonlawpodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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