A Jolt from a Bolt

Is the maker of a self-driving car responsible in a personal injury lawsuit for the car’s automatic actions?

After any kind of accident on the roadway, investigators attempt to reconstruct what happened so that liability for the crash can be established. Sometimes, one driver is at fault, other times multiple drivers, or even pedestrians are found liable for an accident.

But how is liability determined for a self-driving car? Is the driver of the car liable if the car changes lanes on its own and an accident occurs?

With respect to a crash between a motorcyclist and a Chevy Bolt there were some interesting post-accident questions. Did the accident occur as a result of Chevrolet defects in one of the vehicle’s operating systems—or due to an error by one or both drivers involved?

According to a recently filed personal injury lawsuit against GM, a motorcycle rider alleges he was seriously injured by a self-driving Chevy Bolt (which he was riding behind) after it changed lanes and then—when the biker moved forward in the newly-open lane before him—the Bolt “veered back “into his lane and hit him. The biker, who claims the Bolt’s driver didn’t have his hands on the wheel, allegedly “suffered injuries to his neck and shoulder that will require long-term treatment… [and he] was forced to take disability leave from his work.”

The accident reportedly occurred during heavy traffic when the Bolt was only riding about 12 mph. Its initial lane change was allegedly aborted after “sensing that its gap was closing” due to a different vehicle’s deceleration.

In its defense, GM claimed the biker “merged into the lane of the Bolt before it was safe to do so”. Reportedly, the police report concurred and determined that the motorcyclist was at fault.

As the advancements in self-driving cars continue, it’s not unreasonable to expect more problems some of which might lead to auto recalls.

Alternatively, some owners and lessees may simply wind up with a “lemon” which is a new car that’s always in the shop for the same stubborn problem. For example, the Pennsylvania Lemon Law covers vehicles within the first year or 12,000 miles. The New Jersey Lemon Law covers vehicles for the first two years or 24,000 miles.

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