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The Future of Truck Accident Lawsuits in the Age of Self-Driving Trucks

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Self-Driving Trucks and the Future of Truck Accident Lawsuits
October 16, 2023

As the trucking industry evolves, self-driving truck technology emerges as a lucrative and effective logistics solution. Many companies are investigating the conveniences and savings that autonomous vehicles could afford. Yet, as the supporters of self-driving trucks envision the future, are they looking beyond the financial advantages? 

Self-driving trucks also cause irreversible harm. Preventable accidents have devastated families, injuring some and killing others. But who is responsible for the damages caused by driverless cars? Is it the human operator, the autonomous truck manufacturer, the trucking company involved, or someone else? 

Experienced lawyers rely on personal injury lawsuits to ensure negligent companies and individuals are held accountable for their actions. Self-driving vehicle accident claims make for complex cases, but our law firm is up for the challenge. 

Understanding Why Autonomous Trucks Might Crash

Commercial vehicles make frequent stops, handle heavy loads, and cover thousands of miles. Self-driving trucks still need human drivers, but things might change soon.

Self-driving trucks depend on sensors, cameras, and other electronic devices to send data to onboard computers. These computers process the information to make driving decisions and maneuver around obstacles.

Current standards vary by state, but a tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A light-duty pickup truck can haul 12,000 pounds max, while a heavy-duty truck can tow up to 20,000 pounds. Self-driving trucks traveling unattended at high speed is precisely the future we may soon have.

Imagine heavy driverless trucks barreling down the highway at 70 mph with no one behind the wheel. If this sounds scary, it’s for good reason. 

Just as your laptop at home can fail, problems can arise with self-driving truck technology. Consider the examples in the following section. 

Self-driving truck accidents reveal unforeseen dangers

In 2022, a semi-trailer made contact with a concrete divider. The trucking company said the accident was due to human error. However, they admitted that the self-driving technology had responded to an old left-turn command that should have been erased. 

Was it the human’s fault for not rebooting the autonomous driving system? Was it the software’s fault for executing a command given 2.5 minutes prior and not prompting the driver to relaunch the program to clear old directions? Questions like these will arise in court as lawsuits involving self-driving cars become more common.

If you were in another vehicle on the road, would you feel safe with automated big rigs making mistakes at such high velocities? If you were a manufacturer, would you defend your programming?

Some truck manufacturers learn the hard way. An Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona when the self-driving car camera struggled to recognize her as a person. Later, a Tesla operating on autopilot ran a red light in California, resulting in an accident that killed 2 people.

Why does a human operator need to supervise and take over when necessary?

Software malfunction

Self-driving trucks function using computerized technology. Already, any given vehicle driving on the road might rely on automated gear, such as:

  • Cameras
  • Power steering
  • Cruise control
  • Adaptive light control
  • Automatic parking
  • Navigational systems

As a driver, you are probably accustomed to this technology. Your car might allow you to turn these features off and on, and you have a good idea of what to do if they fail.

These tools might appeal to a trucking company since they improve fuel efficiency and reduce the risk of accidents. Yet, before implementing more advanced technology into a fleet of trucks, a trucking company must be sure it is safe.

Mechanical failure

Mechanical issues are dangerous for self-driving trucks and passenger vehicles. Trucking companies must diligently maintain and repair their fleet. If they cut corners, injuries and even death can result.

Dangerous mechanical issues include:

  • Brake failure
  • Tire blowouts 
  • Missing or broken lights
  • Transmission failure
  • Steering or suspension malfunctions

Who is responsible for the truck’s mechanical failure? Multiple parties – such as the vehicle manufacturer, the mechanic or maintenance worker in charge of inspections and repairs, or the trucking company – could be held liable

An autonomous truck accident attorney can help you identify the at-fault party and hold them accountable for their negligence. 

With self-driving trucks, a computer glitch or mechanical problem could lead to disaster. Let’s examine a near-miss that could have left people injured if the truck driver had not reacted quickly.

Human error 

In the Uber accident mentioned above, the company hired someone as a “backup driver” whose job was to intervene if trouble arose. In this case, the human driver had a television show open on her personal phone and a messaging program on her work phone. This safety driver did not notice the person on the road, and the pedestrian paid the price.

To make roads safer, human operators need to use self-driving trucks responsibly. It might be easier said than done, considering the challenges described below:

  • Warning fatigue: This phenomenon, known as the cry-wolf effect, occurs when people receive repeated warnings. Drivers can become desensitized and ignore alerts if self-driving trucks issue numerous warnings, especially if previous signals seem unnecessary. 
  • Overcorrection or undercorrection: Truck accidents occur when motorists react too strongly or weakly to an alert or obstacle.
  • Drowsiness or fatigue: Self-driving cars can lull drivers into a state of fatigue or sleepiness. The safest places to stop trucks are rest stops, but some truckers might pull over to the side of an open road for a nap. Truckers can be held responsible for accidents when they don’t use markers to warn other motorists.
  • Distraction: Drivers can take their attention away from the road, trusting too much in the abilities of the self-driving car. 
  • Traffic violations: Breaking the law makes the roads less safe for everyone. 

Suppose a self-driving truck driver neglects his duty to stay attentive and ready to take full control while operating a self-driving truck. In that case, accident victims can hold them liable for damages. Employers might also be at fault if they fail to train drivers properly.

Another issue that could cause accidents is improperly loaded self-driving trucks. What happens to trucks when cargo shifts? 

Some potentially catastrophic results are:

  • Cargo falls from the truck onto the roadway or other vehicles
  • Increased tire pressure leading to blowouts
  • Drivers lose control of the vehicle
  • Shifting loads that cause truck rollover accidents 
  • Inability to climb inclines 
  • Higher risk of brake failure when traveling downhill 

Improper loads occur when:

  • Overweight loads
  • Under-filled trailers
  • Unbraced or unsecured cargo
  • Sharp-edged cargo cuts ties
  • Uncovered loose cargo
  • Livestock not separated by false bulkheads 

Getting compensated for accidents caused by human error takes expertise and hard work. What can you do if the at-fault party tries to shift the blame? During a free consultation, an attorney can tell you what you must do to take legal action for a trucking accident. 

Determining liability for self-driving truck accidents requires legal knowledge and expertise. An experienced truck accident attorney can investigate, giving you the best chance of building a solid personal injury claim.

Holding Self-Driving Truck Drivers Responsible for Mistakes

Personal injury claims could allow victims of self-driving truck accidents to recover compensation. However, you can only recover damages if your attorney proves that someone’s negligence harmed you. 

By law, negligence is defined as involving:

  • The duty of one party to another (e.g., a self-driving truck driver to use driverless technology correctly) 
  • A breach of duty (e.g., a human driver does not intervene when necessary to prevent a self-driving truck collision) 
  • Injuries or the loss of life
  • Damages that significantly impact your life or possessions

You should know your legal rights if a truck driver’s negligence injured you or a family member. Your compensation depends on your injuries, losses, and other factors. A truck accident lawyer can help ensure you get what you deserve. 

Ensuring Self-Driving Truck Companies Take Responsibility

Federal and state regulations require extensive training for truck drivers. Operators of self-driving vehicles need to understand their responsibilities and the limitations of automated trucks. 

Employers must ensure each driver’s credentials comply with the law. They can be held liable if they authorize anyone to operate autonomous vehicles:

  • Without a valid, current commercial driver’s license (CDL) 
  • Unaccompanied with a commercial learner’s permit (CLP)
  • Without the proper endorsements or for the wrong class of vehicle
  • With more than one CLP or CDL
  • Who violates a railroad-highway grade crossing law

Specialized training must be provided for drivers transporting hazardous materials. 

Truck accident claims hold negligent trucking companies and drivers accountable, obligating them to pay financial compensation for losses like the following:

  • Property damage: Money to fix or replace your vehicle or property (e.g., land, home, business, or personal belongings) 
  • Medical expenses: Medical treatment, rehabilitation, travel for accident-related healthcare appointments, and patient-support devices
  • Lost wages: Income you could have earned if you had been injured, including sick and vacation days, tips, and commission
  • Pain and suffering: Monetary awards for the physical pain, psychological anguish, and emotional trauma the vehicle accident caused
  • End-of-life expenses: Reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses if a loved one perished 

Seeking legal advice is essential for victims of self-driving truck accidents. Our legal warriors work with a small number of clients, ensuring you the attention you need while we fight your battles both in and out of court. 

Facing the Future With Confidence

No one can predict how autonomous trucks will impact the trucking industry and other motorists who share the road. For widespread adoption of this new tech, manufacturers will need to overcome regulatory hurdles to get approval for self-driving vehicles. Meanwhile, we hope they resolve existing problems and make autonomous trucking safer. 

Currently, the self-driving truck accidents occurring now will set precedents for how courts deal with them in the future. Experienced attorneys can help you if you are injured in a crash, but you must get in touch with us first.

Getting fair compensation might seem impossible if you were in an accident involving self-driving trucks or cars. This new technology does add a high level of complexity, but you don’t have to figure it out alone. Our team is prepared to act in your best interest to maximize your claim and protect your future.

Hoffspiegel Law’s hard-working lawyers are ready to protect your rights. Technology will never be more important than compassionate and skillful legal defense. 

Getting your questions answered is easy and convenient. Call (404) 760-8600 to schedule your free consultation. You are important to us, so our phone lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.