As advances in autonomous car technology further remove humans from the equation, liability for accidents will shift away from drivers and toward the manufacturers of driverless vehicles and their hardware and software systems, a trend that experts say will lead to a surge in demand for product liability insurance.
The expected increase in manufacturer liability will likely be accompanied by a corresponding spike in demand for new product liability policies that can tackle all the risks associated with the technology, attorneys say. However, drivers of autonomous vehicles will continue to shoulder a smaller proportion of the liability.
"There could still be liability issues for drivers if, for instance, they saw a warning sign of a glitch but didn't respond with prompt servicing," said Anderson Kill shareholder Josh Gold. "Driver liability will never be completely removed from the equation, but this technology puts the driver in the back seat for personal injury claims."
In addition to hardware and software failures, manufacturers of self-driving cars and their components face the specter of hackers. The threat of criminals stealing data from an autonomous car's computers or even commandeering the vehicle may necessitate the development of an entirely new breed of insurance coverage to protect the manufacturers from the cyber risks associated with their products, experts say.
"With the rise of this technology, and the fact that a lot of these cars are going to be made with wireless connectivity, there will be a possibility of hackers mounting attacks from a continent away and creating the risk of injuries, fatalities and property damage," Gold said. "Once you introduce this technology into the car, it has to be foolproof and properly secured — otherwise, hackers without motivation to profit but with motivation to harm will be able to cause injuries or fatalities by remote control."