California residents who file lawsuits after being injured in car accidents usually take legal action against negligent drivers or their insurance companies, but things are a little more complicated when the vehicle involved was being operated by artificial intelligence and not a human. The rules dealing with auto accident liability will have to be changed to adapt to the emergence of AI, and that process is already underway.
When a vehicle defect and not human error causes an accident, manufacturers rather than drivers may be sued. The debate over AI-related crashes has been fueled by the popularity of Tesla cars and their controversial Autopilot feature. Tesla owner’s manuals clearly state that drivers should remain alert and keep their hands on the wheel whenever Autopilot is engaged, but the company’s marketing materials suggest that the feature can drive cars automatically in just about any situation.
This has led to a series of motor vehicle crashes involving Tesla cars with the Autopilot feature. These accidents have prompted agencies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Justice to launch investigations, and Tesla is also facing several lawsuits. Some of this litigation has been initiated by accident victims, and some of the lawsuits have been filed by Tesla owners. A potential class-action lawsuit filed in San Francisco in September 2022 accuses Tesla of false advertising and seeks compensation for every consumer who purchased a vehicle with the Autopilot feature.
An evolving legal area
The investigations and lawsuits Tesla is facing are connected to the company’s marketing tactics, but future litigation and regulations will focus more on the actual technology. Self-driving cars could one day make accidents a thing of the past, but that day is still a long way off. Until it arrives, courts, lawmakers and auto manufacturers will have to assess the limitations of nascent technology and negotiate an evolving legal landscape.