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Legal reckoning for self-driving vehicle makers

In recent years, as the technology has advanced out of labs and onto the roads, a series of accidents across the nation - including a fatal crash in Florida - has brought the manufacturers of self-driving cars under considerable scrutiny from both regulators and consumers. The industry is now starting to see the legal fallout from rolling out technology that may not have been road-ready. As the first law suits regarding such car accidents are being resolved, it's clear that crashes involving self-driving cars are not your more typical accident cases.

In March, a woman walking her bicycle across a street was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Uber settled out of court with the victim's family within days of the accident. This month, another settlement was reached between a motorcyclist and General Motors. The motorcyclist filed suit after a San Francisco collision involving a GM Cruise in self-driving mode.

The Cruise was operating in heavy traffic when it detected sufficient space between two vehicles to initiate a lane change. The car began to merge. Meanwhile, as the Cruise moved into the other lane, a motorcycle entered the space in the lane that the Cruise had left.

The Cruise's sensors detected that one of the vehicles between which it was attempting to move was decelerating, so the vehicle aborted its lane change and abruptly moved back into the lane it had just left. When it did so, the Cruise collided with the motorcycle, which wobbled and fell to the pavement. Although the motorcyclist's injuries were relatively minor, he filed a lawsuit - the first of its kind involving self-driving vehicles. The nature of the technology implicates both standard negligence law as well as that of products liability because both the owner of a self-driving vehicle and its maker could potentially be held accountable for such accidents.

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