Best Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys in Milwaukee, WI – Call 866-700-5859

Best Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys in Milwaukee, WI., – Call 866-700-5859


Self-Driving Uber Finally Kills Somebody, And I For One Welcome The Coming Test Of Their Liability Shield


(Photo by ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Not to sound macabre, but I’ve been waiting for this. The true test of all of this autonomous, “self-driving” technology was always going to be who gets held liable when the tech kills somebody. But we were always going to need bodies, dead bodies, before the law sprang into action to start sorting it out.

Now, sadly, we have one. From the New York Times:

A woman in Tempe, Ariz., died after being hit by a self-driving car operated by Uber, in what appears to be the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.

The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel when it struck the woman, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, the Tempe police said in a statement.

And now let’s play: pin the liability on the donkey! There are three options and while none of them are mutually exclusive, let’s pretend they are for the sake of clarity.

A) Uber. They put out these self-driving vehicles, and now a woman is dead. Their tech killed a person, “autonomously.” That makes them responsible. And the equities suggest they also have the deepest pockets to pay for whatever harm their cars cause. A couple of wrongful death lawsuits and I promise you Uber will figure out how to implement the three laws of robotics before they put these machines back out on the street.

B) The Operator. There was a human person behind the wheel, and we’re told that those humans are there specifically for “safety.” Clearly, that person failed. If you need more grist for your law school exam, just pretend that he was also drunk or asleep or something else that makes it easier for your to find him at fault. Sure, he’s probably judgment proof, but we can always send him to jail. Criminal law can apply too.

C) The Pedestrian. Hello, Justice Sam Alito, I’m thinking of you too. Obviously, whenever a person like Uber kills an animal like a human woman, it’s important to think about how the animal contributed to or caused its own demise. When your F150 blasts into a deer, you don’t hike around trying to make restitution to its family. Why should this woman be treated any differently than roadkill? Here, the reports clearly states that she was “outside the crosswalk.” Sounds like a capital offense to me! If the woman is wholly or predominately at fault, then we can still have this technological PROGRESS without the chilling effect of people like Uber being made responsible for accidents.

Oh, is my bias showing? Sorry. I have this revulsion for when giant corporations kill us. I have this weird thing where I think laws should protect people from the robots, as opposed to protecting corporations from the people who get in their way.

But that’s me. I fear a lot of judges will put this on the operator, or do some contributory test between the operator and the pedestrian. Instead of viewing the self-driving technology as “new,” the law will want to make it similar to something “old.” The operator will get dinged, minus the contributory negligence of the dead woman, based on the precedent of Horse and Buggy Driver v. Artful Dodger. And Uber will promise to self-regulate their cars even “more.”

If you want self-driving cars to be safe, you have to punish their owners when those cars kill. We won’t have the will to do that until the bodies really start piling up. This Arizona pedestrian might be the first tragedy, I promise she won’t be the last.

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Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Arizona Pedestrian

Elie Mystal is the Executive Editor of Above the Law and the Legal Editor for More Perfect. He can be reached @ElieNYC on Twitter, or at He will resist.