Absolute Liability and Res Ipsa Loquitur: Dangerous Legal Concepts Potentially Stifling Autonomous Vehicle Innovation

August 20, 2019

Autonomous vehicles bring promises of enhanced safety, boosted personal productivity time, eased traffic congestion, and improved fuel economy, among other societal benefits. So what is holding us back? The advancement of the technology itself is one barrier. Another speedbump is consumer acceptance – giving up the driving experience. A third and frequently overlooked factor may be a potentially hostile regulatory and legal landscape for innovators operating in this space. As with all innovation, the law often reacts and plays catch-up to game-changing products and services. As intermediate technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist are more frequently becoming the subjects of products liability lawsuits, the common law legal model for assessing what will eventually become fully autonomous vehicle technologies is already developing.

This discussion addresses the legal framework – strict products liability – that has served the interests of injured plaintiffs and auto manufacturers for decades, and why this model is well-suited for the future of auto products liability in the era of autonomous vehicles. Commentators calling for an absolute liability model, or application of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine to cases involving injured parties in autonomous vehicles, should pay attention because these narrow legal concepts are ultimately likely to do more harm than good. With human error underlying the vast majority of all injury crashes, taking the human out of the equation means enormous potential safety benefits. Bad law should not be a deterrent to critical autonomous vehicle innovation and its deployment out onto our roads.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. EST

Speaker: Michael R. Carey, Member, Minneapolis

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