San Diego-based Tyson & Mendes has created a task force to examine legal questions and liability lawsuits likely to stem from crashes involving autonomous vehicles. Defending companies that insure and manufacture driverless cars has great potential for law firms, Managing Partner Bob Tyson said. “The issue becomes who is at fault,” he said. Stock image by Andrei Gabriel Stanescu | Dreamstime.com

San Diego-based Tyson & Mendes has created a task force to examine legal questions and liability lawsuits likely to stem from crashes involving autonomous vehicles. Defending companies that insure and manufacture driverless cars has great potential for law firms, Managing Partner Bob Tyson said. “The issue becomes who is at fault,” he said. Stock image by Andrei Gabriel Stanescu | Dreamstime.com

— Embracing an emerging field of law, the Tyson & Mendes civil litigation firm has launched a practice aimed at defending the insurers and manufacturers of self-driving cars.

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Cayce Greiner

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Bob Tyson

The concept of a car that drives itself “raises a whole host of legal issues,” said Managing Partner Bob Tyson. “We are ahead of the curve, but this is the reality. There are semi-autonomous vehicles already in production and fully autonomous vehicles are three to five years away from being sold to the general public.”

With traditional cars, liability lawsuits are fairly straightforward, he said. Drivers who cause injuries or property damage typically are held responsible for monetary damages. But who should be held liable when the driver is merely a passenger in a car that operates using artificial intelligence? How will this affect manufacturers and insurance companies?

About two and a half years ago, San Diego-based Tyson & Mendes created a task force to examine these questions. Partner Cayce Greiner noted that the vast majority of car accidents today are the result of human error. When computers take over the task of driving, there no longer will be accidents caused by such things as distracted driving or driving under the influence of intoxicants.

“Nevertheless accidents will happen,” Greiner said. “There are law firms out there dealing with the technology and the IP (intellectual property) side, but we are focusing on the liability side.”

An Emerging Field

Defending companies that insure and manufacture driverless cars has great potential for law firms, said Tyson.

“It will be as big as or bigger than accidents are today,” he said. “The issue becomes who is at fault. America is built on the fault system. If no one is driving the vehicles, who are you going to sue? If I am sitting in my car and smash into a telephone pole and I am not driving, what did I do wrong? Who do you defend?”

Greiner said there likely will be no need for tort reform to deal with disputes over driverless cars.

“Our tort system will be intact,” she said. “But instead of negligence cases filed against drivers we are going to see products liability lawsuits filed against those entities that are involved with the cars and the technology.”

While Tyson declined to name his clients in the new practice, he said they include insurance companies and companies that are interested in owning fleets of self-driving cars.

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