Product Liability

A senior partner at your law firm represents Hands Free Cars, an automobile manufacturer that recently introduced a fully autonomous vehicle into the market. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), this vehicle is a Level 4 autonomous vehicle approved for driving on public roads. The vehicle is designed to operate in full autonomous mode, but does have human usable controls for when a human driver wants or needs to take control. The client has recently informed your senior partner about the very first accident involving one of these cars. According to Hands Free Cars, one of its cars was operating in full autonomous mode in heavy traffic (autonomous vehicle or “AV”). The AV was traveling in the center of three one-way lanes. The AV identified a space between two vehicles (a minivan in front and a sedan behind) in the left lane and began to merge into that lane. At the same time, the minivan decelerated. Sensing that the gap was closing, the AV stopped making the lane change and returned fully to the center lane. As the AV was re-centering itself in the venter lane, a motorcycle that had just lane-split between two vehicles in the center and right lanes moved into the center lane. The motorcyclist glanced the side of the AV, wobbled, and fell over. At the time of the collision, the AV was traveling with the flow of traffic at 25 mph, while the motorcycle was weaving in and out of traffic at approximately 35 mph. The motorcyclist escaped serious injury, but was transported by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. The motorcyclist’s attorney has sent a demand letter to Hands Free Cars and the “driver” of the AV. Your senior partner has asked you for a memo analyzing the legal issues involved in any potential lawsuit involving Hands Free Cars, the “driver,” and the motorcyclist. Your client is particularly interested in which liability doctrine would most likely control under these facts. Please compose this memo.