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Self-driving cars raise questions of liability

Only half of New Yorkers own cars, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, but ridesharing companies like Uber are rapidly exploring self-driving technology for their own services. The future reality of self-driving rideshares is one that is equal parts exciting and scary, and one that New Yorkers living in a city of cabs may have to confront for themselves one day.

Uber made headlines once again in March after an incident in Arizona when a self-driving car carrying a passenger collided with a pedestrian crossing the street. The pedestrian died as a result of the accident.

When self-driving cars are involved in an accident, determining who is at-fault for the crash can be difficult. It could also have implications for New York's no-fault insurance laws in the future.

Who is responsible for a self-driving car crash?

If you are involved in a car accident in New York, you can automatically make a claim with your own insurance company to cover the cost of damages. But, if the accident is severe and crosses a certain threshold, victims and insurance companies may pursue a case against another party.

When one driver involved in an accident makes a claim against another driver, the investigation centers on which driver is at fault for the crash, but because a person does not operate a self-driving car in the same way, a different party can be responsible for the accident including the car manufacturer itself.

In many cases, it is possible that both parties are partially responsible for the accident, and the self-driving Uber crash could have the same outcome, meaning Uber may not have to pay as much to the victim in monetary compensation.

Its impact on insurance laws

The self-driving Uber accident is a dark reminder of the growing pains companies are experiencing as they explore new technology - and it could open new questions about liability in an accident.

How might laws related to car insurance and personal injury change as victims bring cases against software companies and engineers instead of another driver? Self-driving cars are an emerging technology, and many areas of law and terms of insurance liability coverage may not contain the appropriate language to cover victims of a crash. That is to say: we are writing the laws as accidents happen.

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