How Technology Is Challenging Personal Injury Law

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.

Technology affects every aspect of the average person’s daily life. From self-driving cars to social media, in just three short decades everything about society has changed. Some of the newest technology trends are challenging the legal system — specifically the Boston personal injury lawyer field — and begging the question, “If technology is involved, is it the maker of the technology or the operator who is at fault when something happens?”

Technology is supposed to help society and make life easier, but that isn’t always the case. For some new and innovative things, being convenient and sometimes fun doesn’t necessarily make them safe.

 

Self-driving technology

 

What could be better than getting into a vehicle, pressing a button and getting somewhere without having to pay attention or worry about the road? Self-driving technology saves countless hours spent in transit, letting people multitask when they are on the road instead of wasting time. But are they really helping people — or putting them at risk?

 

Tech companies developing self-driving assistance are still in their infancy, meaning the technology hasn’t worked out the “kinks” yet. Before any technology can be perfected, there needs to be testing and adjustments made. Unfortunately, that can mean people become guinea pigs in something that can have disastrous effects.

 

Google’s self-driving vehicles, which are being driven in as many as four cities and have traveled a total of two million miles, pose a higher risk for crashes. As it stands currently, there are nine crashes for every million miles traveled by self-driving cars.

 

Traditional cars only total about two crashes per one million miles. So self-driving technology causes about 4.5 times the risk. When these cars crash, there are all sorts of challenges to personal injury, fault, and blame. As the technology increases and expands, more laws and fault determination need to be made to sort through the court cases.

 

Drones

 

Drones are no doubt cool, convenient, and provide the technology to do things that nothing else has ever been able to do when they take flight. But they do not come without risk. Since 2015, drone sales have exceeded $200 million. There also have been a rash of near-collisions with humans, airplanes and other objects.

 

The FAA received more than 150 reports of drones getting too close to airplanes, which could pose a significant harm to the public and could open them up to be an instrument for warfare and terror. Drones also pose a problem when it comes to personal injury. Who is at fault for the accident: the drone manufacturer or the operator?

 

Hoverboards

 

Last year’s holiday craze, the hoverboards were the must-have gift of the season — until they started self-combusting and exploding. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled over 500,000 hoverboards and certified most of them as unsafe. They aren’t just a fire hazard, either: millions of people reportedly sustained injuries while riding them. The ride might have been fun, but that doesn’t mean that it was safe or appropriate for everyone.

 

Who is at fault? In all these cases, it is ultimately the technology that does the harm and causes the injuries, but sometimes it is hard to decipher if it is an instrument error or a manufacturer’s defect. When it comes to a self-driving cars, the law says that if there is a human behind the wheel of the car, then they are liable. But the National Highway Safety Administration recently wrote a letter to Google, stating that if someone is using self-driving technology, then the car is driving — not the human — and the manufacturer would be liable.

 

If that is the case, then the case turns into a product liability issue, which could make the car manufacturer, not the “driver,” at fault for any accident. As technology advances and takes the place of human thought and decisions, the fault will continue to shift back to the makers and designers of the technology instead of whoever purchased it or is using it. You can’t put something in charge and then say it isn’t its fault. If technology is going to take over jobs, then the manufacturers have to accept liability when things go wrong.

 

Hugh Howerton