Volvo Cars President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced Thursday in Washington, DC, that the automaker would “accept full liability whenever one if its cars is in autonomous mode,” making Volvo one of the first automakers to solve one of many important legal issues that face autonomous vehicles.
In cities where owning a car can be a pain (New York, Boston, Seattle), drivers are opting instead to share vehicles with other drivers, with companies such as ZipCar, Car2Go, RelayRides et al offering their services to help the public get around. All anyone needs beyond the basics is a subscription to the car-sharing service, a reservation, and a drop-off location when they are finished with their errands. Even big-name rental car companies like Enterprise and Hertz are jumping into the new business model for a test drive, Avis having gone the farthest by purchasing ZipCar in January of 2013.
However, the insurance offered by these peer-to-peer rental companies might not all that it’s cracked up to be, with severe consequences should anything remotely catastrophic occur.
Just when you thought things in America’s Litigious Society couldn’t get any weirder:
A New Jersey appeals court has found a person who knowingly sends a text to a driver can share liability if the driver causes an accident… The appeals court says someone who texts a motorist is not liable for the driver’s negligent actions. But the texter has a duty to refrain if the person knows the recipient is driving and likely to read the message.
How far will an insurance company go to save money? Most people expect modern insurers to attempt to wiggle out of claims, use inferior parts to repair a car, or argue every possible technicality. How about defending in court the person who kills one of their insured clients, just to make sure they don’t have to come across with underinsured-motorist coverage?
Back in 2005, Ford was ordered to pay some $43m to the Jablonski family whose Lincoln Town Car had caught fire after being rear-ended. According to the Associated Press:
As a result of the crash, according to the ruling, a large pipe wrench in the Jablonski car’s [trunk] was propelled into the vehicle’s gas tank, causing the blaze.
Attorneys for the family argued during the 11-day trial that the fuel tank’s positioning behind axle was among things flawed in the car’s construction, and that Ford should have warned car owners or retrofitted the vehicles with safety devices.
Ford countered that no similar accidents had occurred involving the same Town Car model as the one driven by John Jablonski, that the vehicle’s fuel tank was in “the optimum location for that car,” and that the crash should be blamed on the motorist who rear-ended the Jablonskis.
That ruling, with its echoes of the Pinto fiasco, could have validated a long-cherished belief of the personal injury attorney profession: that gas tanks rear of the rear axle are fundamentally dangerous (see above). Of course that’s not the case, and the Town Car in question was given a five-star safety rating by NHTSA. Accordingly, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the ruling, finding that
the lawsuit on Dora and John Jablonski’s behalf did not give sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude Ford negligently “breached its duty of reasonable care” in designing the Lincoln Town Car
When private, for-profit firms ask for public money, taxpayers tend to take a more personal interest in their goings-on. After all, they are, in a very real sense, still the partial owners of these companies, and they put up the cash to provide a second chance to companies that offer no similar reciprocation when consumers default on their own car loans. And though US taxpayers have earned the right to feel a sense of ownership towards GM and Chrysler, there are several groups of Americans who have shouldered a disproportionate amount of the burden of the bailout. First, the GM and Chrysler employees who were laid off despite the bailout must doubtless wonder why they had to both fund the bailout and lose their jobs (remember, cutting jobs was the most “positive” aspect of the bailout, according to the industry). Similarly, GM and Chrysler’s bondholders paid twice to “save” their failed investments, once with their tax money and again by taking a hefty cramdown. And finally, a third group paid far more than anyone else, not only funding the bailout with with their taxes, but also sacrificing compensation for injuries caused by GM and Chrysler vehicles. The WSJ [sub] reports
Among the creditors who suffered most, car-accident victims represent a distinct mold. Unlike banks and bondholders, this group didn’t choose to extend credit to the auto makers. As consumers, they became creditors only after suffering injuries in vehicles they purchased.
“This was not a normal case. The government was deciding who was going to be taken care of and who was not,” said David Skeel, a University of Pennsylvania law school professor and bankruptcy expert who has testified before Congress on the auto bailouts. Even if the auto makers had legal rights to leave behind product-liability claims, “there is a deep unfairness,” he said. “It would have been easy enough to set something aside for them.”
Given the celebratory, even triumphalist, rhetoric that’s being applied to the auto bailout after the fact, it’s important to remember that many suffered in order to give GM and Chrysler a second chance. Even those who are proud of the bailout’s accomplishment should acknowledge that the jobs saved carried a price that goes beyond any final accounting of anonymous billions lost from the federal budget. The pro-bailout crowd should take more care to recognize and heal the deep wounds that fester beneath their “Mission Accomplished” rhetoric… if only to prevent a repeat of these tragic decisions in the event of future industry rescues.
A lawsuit against Mazda is moving to the United States Supreme Court, reports Bloomberg, challenging whether automakers should have been required to install shoulder belts in all of its seats prior to current regulations requiring the improved belting systems took effect in 2007. The case centers on a 2002 accident in which Than Williams was killed when a Jeep Wrangler hit her family’s 1993 Mazda MPV. The Williams MPV had only lap belts because shoulder belts weren’t required by federal law until 2007. A California court has already barred the lawsuit from coming forward, arguing that federal regulations supersede any local rulings, and that then-legal seatbelts should protect manufacturers from personal injury liability. However a recent case casts some doubt on the precedents in the Mazda case…