Over the past decade, autonomous vehicles have transitioned from science fiction fodder to a multibillion-dollar industry that will reshape the future of travel. Autonomous vehicles will solve a lot—but not all—of the safety problems plaguing the roads today. Indeed, we have already seen accidents involving them. In November of 2017, an autonomous shuttle was involved in an accident in Las Vegas. The fatal accident involving one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles in Arizona in 2018 was another highly publicized incident. As autonomous vehicles take to the road in ever-increasing numbers, accidents will continue to happen. As lawyers, we know that this means there will also be litigation.
Currently, a federal framework does not exist for autonomous vehicle law. Given the highly technical nature of autonomous vehicles, lawsuits stemming from autonomous vehicle accidents will likely apply products liability concepts to hold manufacturers of autonomous vehicles responsible for any harm that they cause. Products liability is typically an area where state law controls; thus, it stands to reason that unless federal laws are promulgated, states will be left to determine the appropriate laws for cases involving autonomous vehicles.
This article offers an overview of the discovery that should be sought in autonomous vehicle cases prior to the establishment of a statutory framework. As the adage goes, cases are won and lost in the discovery phase—and autonomous vehicle litigation will be no different.