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Florida Welcomes Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are familiar to all of us.  In the 1968 feature film “The Love Bug,” we were introduced to Herbie, an autonomous vehicle. From Herbie to Knight Rider and the Transformers, people are fascinated by fictional cars that drive with no driver in the front seat.  As of June 13, 2019, autonomous automobiles are no longer going to be fiction on Florida roads.  They will be on Florida roads with no human driver in the front seat staring July 1, 2019.

In fact, according to the marketing firm ABI, as many as 8 million driverless cars will be added to the road in 2025, and Research and Markets anticipate that there will be some 20 million autonomous cars in operation in the U.S. by 2030.  As such, not long from now, passing a car or truck with no driver will be the norm.

Many are concerned that a self-driving vehicle will give an occupant a false sense of safety, leading the vehicle and the occupant into tragedy.  Wikipedia has a List of self-driving car fatalities.  Since 2016, there have been 7 reported deaths involving self-driving vehicles.  Most of the fatalities were the driver, but, one was a pedestrian.  As such, self-driving vehicles do make mistakes and cause crashes which can be injurious and fatal.  Thus, the concern is valid.

Under the new Florida law, it states that the owner of an autonomous vehicle is legally responsible for the actions of the autonomous vehicle.  This is consistent with Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, which states that the owner of any motor vehicle is legally responsible for the negligence of any permissive user of that motor vehicle.  Furthermore, under the new Florida law, insurance coverage is required in the same amounts for both autonomous and traditional automobiles.  Accordingly, as it relates to insurance coverage and fault, not much will change for these autonomous vehicles or their owners.

However, what will change is the prospect of potential products liability case against the manufacturer of a defective autonomous vehicle.  The nightmare scenario occurs when an autonomous vehicle malfunctions causing the occupant to get into a deadly automobile crash.  This awful situation of an autonomous vehicle malfunction crash would be compounded and more catastrophic when it involves self-driving tractor trailers. In Florida, as of February of 2019, self-driving tractor trailers were being tested near Lake Okeechobee, and they are expected to start driving on our roads in July.  If a computer error, a communication error or an artificial intelligence error causes an autonomous vehicle to injure or kill someone, there would be a potential products liability case against the manufacturer of the product as well as liability for the owner.

Without question, the potential dangers autonomous vehicles pose is an emerging area of law that personal injury attorneys need to be equipped to handle.  The attorneys at Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith PLLC, have successfully handled many products liability cases for decades, and we are equipped to help our clients navigate a case involving an autonomous vehicle.  If an autonomous truck or car is the cause of injuries or death, we can help.

This article is by Firm Partner Chad Hastings.

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