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Questions of Liability Arise with the Advent of Autonomous Ubers

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

Ride-sharing giant, Uber, announced that it will be launching a fleet of four driverless cars in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this fall. While some view the advent of the autonomous car as an exciting innovation, many in the legal community are holding their breath for the possible flood of liability issues driverless cars could pose.

At the moment, Pennsylvania law governing these driverless vehicles is a bit murky. State lawmakers have organized a task force to prepare policy recommendations to govern the vehicles; however, the vehicles are currently being treated as any other traditional car on the road. Lawmakers hope to receive recommendations from the task force by the end of Fall 2016 in order to clarify any gray areas in the law as soon as possible.

A spokesman from the Pennsylvania Insurance Department commented on the situation, saying that from an insurance point of view, the driverless vehicles could be treated the same as a traditional vehicle operating in cruise control. Since, at present, all driverless Ubers will contain an Uber employee sitting in the driver’s seat as required by Pennsylvania law, and an Uber engineer in the passenger seat, the question an insurer will ask is whether the accident was the result of human error or a technological malfunction. If it is determined that a malfunction was the problem, the entity responsible for the technology would then be responsible.

Uber currently holds a $1 million insurance policy for third-party liability and uninsured/underinsured coverage for all its traditional vehicles in Pennsylvania and the company has announced that its autonomous cars are insured for up to $5 million.

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