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Would a driverless car accident be a product liability case?

Normally, a car accident in Illinois is going to start either a personal injury case, a criminal case or both. But what happens when driverless cars -- which are feeling more and more like an inevitable development every day -- get in accidents? Would that be a product liability case?

It's hard to know just yet, as driverless cars are very uncommon and the ones that do exist rarely get in accidents. They have never been in an accident where someone else was not at fault. However, experts argue that it would definitely be a product liability issue when it happens.

Remember, product liability takes design into account. If software that is designed to help the car drive on its own fails, then that software and the people who wrote it are at fault. The passengers in the car would be much more difficult to pin fault on. It's similar to the way that a defect in a modern car -- like the ignition issues that recently spawned many recalls -- can cause an accident that human drivers can't control.

One example given is if the autonomous steering technology is flawless in daylight hours, but then fails at night. Anyone involved in such an accident could easily claim that driving after dark is a reasonable activity that should have been considered by the designers, and that the fact that the car wasn't designed to do so means those designers were negligent. As long as the person who owned the car used it properly, the fault would fall on the design itself, and it would be a product liability case.

Any time new technology hits the market, it's important for consumers to understand the liability implications.

Source: The Atlantic, "Who Is at Fault When a Driverless Car Gets in an Accident?," John Villasenor, accessed Aug. 20, 2015

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