Although the idea may seem far-fetched, with self-driving cars becoming more ubiquitous, it’s possible they may put pedestrians at risk.

Autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves without the need for a human operator used to be nothing more than a science-fiction trope. However, there is now good reason to suspect that self-driving vehicles will be fairly commonplace on our roads much sooner than many would have expected.

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Although Uber abandoned its attempt to offer customers rides via self-driving cars a couple of years ago, industry experts still generally predict that once autonomous vehicles are more reliable and available, one of their most prevalent uses will be to offer essentially the same services that companies like Uber and Lyft offer, providing convenient transportation options to those who don’t have access to their own vehicles. In fact, these types of services already exist in rudimentary forms, such as Waymo, which currently operates in parts of Arizona.

This has triggered certain questions among both the general public and lawmakers. For instance, what are the legal ramifications if a self-driving car strikes a pedestrian?

A Ride-Hailing, Autonomous Vehicle Hits a Pedestrian: What Happens Next?


Because taxi services with fleets of self-driving are still in their infancy, there is not much case law that can be referred to in relation to vehicles ride-sharing, autonomous vehicles striking pedestrians and causing injury or death. That said, in areas where these services are becoming available, lawmakers have already taken steps to ensure there is no question regarding how a self-driving vehicle should “react” when these incidents occur.

In Arizona, the law states that if an autonomous vehicle without a human driver strikes a pedestrian or other individual on or near the road (such as a bicyclist), the vehicle must stop at the scene of the accident (or as close to the scene as it can stop) and wait until police have fully investigated the accident before it can leave the scene. These are essentially the same requirements that apply to accidents involving vehicles with human operators.

Other states will have to prepare to address the legal issues that are likely to become more practical and less theoretical as this technology becomes more ubiquitous. For example, here in Massachusetts, plans are in development to integrate self-driving ride-hailing services into cities like Boston where they can potentially offer tremendous value. Motorists and pedestrians should thus be familiar with the steps they can potentially take to recover compensation for which they may be eligible if they are ever harmed in accidents involving autonomous vehicles.

The day when you are at risk of being struck by an autonomous vehicle while navigating Massachusetts’ roads as a pedestrian may seem far off, but it could be closer than you think.

Who Pays When a Self-Driving Car Strikes a Pedestrian?


If you are struck by an autonomous vehicle as a pedestrian in Massachusetts, you will be able to pursue compensation for your medical bills and other such losses. It is most likely that you will do so by filing a claim to collect from the insurance of the company that owns and operates the vehicle which struck you.

This is similar to how you would respond if you were struck by an Uber or Lyft. If you’re a pedestrian and you’re struck by someone driving for their own personal reasons, you would typically file a claim to collect from that driver’s insurance. However, except in certain specific circumstances, if you’re hit by an Uber or Lyft in Massachusetts, you will likely file a claim to collect from the insurance of the company, and not necessarily the actual driver of the vehicle.

The same principle will almost certainly apply to autonomous vehicles. Just be aware that filing a claim will not guarantee an automatic payout. The insurers of large ride-sharing companies are not inclined to lose money when they can avoid doing so. As such, they will often look for reasons to avoid paying you the compensation you may be eligible for.

Perhaps they will argue that you were injured as a result of your own negligence. For example, they might claim you tried to cross the road in front of a self-driving car when it was too close to stop and avoid hitting you. Proving the insurance company’s version of events is inaccurate may be uniquely difficult in these circumstances. The company could argue that a self-driving car is not prone to human error, and thus would have only struck you if doing so was unavoidable.

This does not mean you can’t win your case if a self-driving car hits you someday in the future. It means you need to optimize your chances of recovering the compensation to which you may be entitled by enlisting the help of skilled legal experts.

The day when you are at risk of being struck by an autonomous vehicle while navigating Massachusetts’ roads as a pedestrian may seem far off, but it could be closer than you think. Regardless, it’s still possible to be harmed as a pedestrian by human drivers right now. If this ever happens to you, schedule a free consultation with Swartz & Swartz by calling our offices at (617) 742-1900 or contacting us online. We will work hard to optimize your chances of recovering the compensation you may deserve.

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James 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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