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| Chaffin Luhana LLP

In March 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The 49-year-old woman was walking with her bicycle outside of the crosswalk when the Volvo SUV hit her. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the incident, with the vehicle operator in the passenger seat. The pedestrian later died in the hospital.

Since then, there has been a question of whether Uber would be charged with a crime related to the accident. Arizona prosecutors recently revealed that they had not discovered evidence to charge Uber, and that there was no basis for criminal liability.

Uber Determined Not to be Liable for Pedestrian’s Death

Reports indicate that the vehicle was traveling at about 40 miles per hour at the time of the accident, and showed no signs of slowing prior to hitting the woman. The Uber driver, a 44-year old woman, was not impaired, but a June 2018 police report indicated that she was watching the television show “The Voice” via a streaming service in the minutes leading up to the crash.

Uber noted in a statement that interacting with any mobile device while operating a self-driving vehicle on a public road was a fireable offense. They suspended tests of autonomous vehicles in May 2018, but resumed in December.

Not long after the incident, Uber reached a settlement agreement with the family of the woman killed. Her daughter and husband had filed a lawsuit against the company, and the settlement—the terms of which were not revealed—resolved the allegations.

The Driver May be Found Liable in the Accident

Meanwhile, the driver of the Uber vehicle may still face charges. Yavapai County officials, who determined that Uber had no criminal liability, recently returned the case to Maricopa County for them to determine what, if any, charges may be brought against the woman who was distracted at the time of the crash.

The vehicle’s safety collision-avoidance system is designed to brake to avoid or mitigate an accident, but engineers disabled the autonomous braking for potential crashes to prevent erratic vehicle behavior. That means in this case, the car could not have stopped itself in time. Only the driver could have prevented the accident.

The police determined after the accident that it could have been avoided had the driver been watching the road.

The Driver and/or the State May be Found Liable in the Accident

Though this decision reflects a consistent pattern of how people, not car manufacturers, are typically believed to be responsible for accidents, the Uber incident brings up questions about whether this should continue to be the case where self-driving vehicles are involved. It may be unwise to expect drivers to remain completely attentive in vehicles that do the majority of the driving themselves.

Arizona Central recently reported that the family of the deceased woman recently filed another lawsuit against the city of Tempe and the state of Arizona, claiming that they were negligent in the fatal crash. The case is pending in the Superior Court of Phoenix, with plaintiffs asserting that the state allowed Uber and other companies to conduct experiments with autonomous vehicles on Arizona roadways and on Arizona citizens.

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