Estimates from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggest there may be as many as 3.5 million self-driving (or “autonomous”) vehicles on the U.S.’s roads by 2025. Ideally, these vehicles would pose no safety threat to other motorists.

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Unfortunately, accidents involving autonomous cars have already occurred. With such vehicles becoming more commonplace on the road, it’s possible you’ll one day be injured in an accident with a self-driving car.

Who may be considered at fault in this scenario? How may you seek financial compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and related losses in the wake of such an accident?

The answers to these questions may vary somewhat depending on where you live and where your accident occurs. If you’re ever hurt in an accident involving a self-driving vehicle in Massachusetts, the following overview should answer your basic questions about how to seek the compensation for which you may be eligible.

Injured in an Accident With an Autonomous Vehicle in Massachusetts: How to Seek Compensation

Massachusetts is a no-fault auto insurance state. In Massachusetts, you can file a claim with your own insurance to seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and related losses after a motor vehicle crash. Filing a claim with your insurance would be your primary course of action even if someone else caused your accident.

Suing a Negligent Party After a Massachusetts Auto Accident

As is the case in other no-fault states, in Massachusetts, if your injuries after a car accident are severe enough to meet a certain threshold, you can seek additional compensation beyond what your own insurance may provide by filing a claim with the insurance of the negligent party who caused your accident, or by suing them in court. A lawyer can review your case and the extent of your losses/damages to determine whether this may be an option. Filing a third-party claim or lawsuit might also be an option if a car accident results in the passing of a loved one.

Filing a claim with your insurance would be your primary course of action even if someone else caused your accident.

When an Autonomous Vehicle Causes an Accident in Massachusetts, Who is Liable?

You must first properly identify the party whose negligence caused your accident before you may file a third-party claim or lawsuit. This can be uniquely challenging if you were struck by a self-driving car.

That’s partially because the laws regarding this matter are still developing and evolving. For instance, you might assume that if a self-driving vehicle causes an accident, the designers or manufacturers of the vehicle should be held liable.

Such an assumption is understandable. In circumstances when it can be shown an accident occurred because a vehicle component malfunctioned or was defective, it may genuinely be the case that a manufacturer or designer is found liable.

However, there are reasons to believe it might be more common for the owner of a self-driving car to be found liable when their autonomous vehicle strikes someone. Consider the following disclaimer from Tesla:

Active Supervision; Responsibility. Full Self-Driving capability features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. You’re responsible for any and all speeding, tolls, parking, and other traffic violations even when the features are in use. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you only use Full Self-Driving capability features when it’s safe and legal to do so. 

This is just one example of the legal steps self-driving vehicle designers and manufacturers may take to protect themselves from liability when accidents occur. Although a car may be operating by itself, a human in the driver’s seat is still responsible for keeping an eye on the road and taking back control of the vehicle in order to prevent accidents.

Additionally, in California, when a Tesla on autopilot mode ran a red light and caused an accident that resulted in the death of another motorist, the vehicle’s owner was charged with manslaughter. This case establishes a precedent that may inform how liability is assigned in future civil cases.

The main point to understand is that determining how to proceed when seeking compensation after being struck by a self-driving vehicle can be a complex matter. That’s just one of many reasons to strongly consider enlisting the help of an attorney when planning to file a claim or lawsuit.

At Swartz & Swartz, P.C., a Boston car accident lawyer can review your case, explain your legal options, and offer the aggressive representation you deserve after someone else’s negligence causes an accident. Learn more about what we can do for you by contacting us online or calling us at (617) 742-1900.

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If you or someone you know, needs help from a lawyer, contact the law offices of Swartz & Swartz, use our live chat, or send us a message using the form below and we’ll get in touch to assess your case and how we can help.

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About the Author: James Swartz
Mr. Swartz, our Managing and Principal Attorney at Swartz & Swartz P.C., is a nationally recognized and respected trial attorney as well as consumer advocate. His practice focuses on cases involving negligence, torts, products liability, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other claims involving catastrophic injuries.

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