Automated Vehicle Technology and Personal Injury Law

December 20, 2017

Posted by: Josh Hughes


Over the coming weeks in a short series of blogs, Complex Injuries Solicitor, Ben Pepper, and I will be taking a look into the potentially far reaching effects of the introduction of driverless cars or automated vehicle technology (“AVT”).

Starting with this introductory piece, we will be looking a number of issues relevant to both future personal injury claimants and the wider legal industry such as:

  • the likely timelines and current testing for the technology;
  • the potential impact upon the existing law and insurance industry; as well as
  • the wider implications, considerations and potential risks of AVT

These blogs are not intended to represent an in-depth analysis of the technology.  Rather, we intend to provide a broad overview of the often competing interests of stakeholders such as the Government’s Department of Transport, private businesses, personal injury solicitors and motor insurance companies.

My view is that the legal profession will see the impact of automation, in various guises, sooner than we realise and certainly within the decade.  Indeed, such is the pace of development, even whilst finalising this blog, there have been several legal industry articles reported on the subject.

Introduction

In the last few weeks alone, the Law Society Gazette reported forecasts that artificial intelligence and automation will lead to significantly fewer legal jobs within a generation[1].  Indeed, whilst there’s certainly no shortage of catastrophising when it comes to technological advancement, like all new things automation will bring about profound changes to the legal sector, both good and bad.

In a world that is witnessing the unlikely rise of digital currencies and Elon Musk’s SpaceX project sounding less and less like mere sci-fi, there is little reason to doubt that artificial intelligence, including AVT, will become a very real prospect for consumers and the legal industry in the not too distant future.

In fact, despite their traditional resistance to technology, some solicitors firms are already beginning to utilise artificial intelligence to their advantage – particularly when dealing with data intensive tasks such as disclosure.  For example, November 2017 saw defendant law firm Keoghs announce its first true “AI lawyer” able to settle cases within seconds of receiving an emailed instruction[2].  I expect similar announcements will follow, particularly from the defendant solicitor / insurance industries when trying to operate on increasingly tighter margins.

When?

Advanced driver assistance is already upon us in the form of automated braking and parking assist systems.  In April 2017, with the backing of a multimillion pound Government grant, a consortium of British companies unveiled proposals to test driverless cars on UK roads and motorways in 2019[3].  However, Philip Hammond’s recent Autumn Budget appears to have accelerated this plan, suggesting that we will see the testing of driverless cars on UK roads as early as 2018[4].

Testing will initially involve a human passenger who can override the automation if necessary, but experts think that truly autonomous vehicles could be viable any time from the mid-2020s onwards.  By 2035, it is predicted that there will be something in the order of 21 million autonomous vehicles on the world’s roads[5].

Skeptics may wish to consider that the Government has already set out its notable support of, and funding for, the development of AVT in its response to their major consultation on the proposals – voicing its intention to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of the change[6].

The Law

For specialist serious injury firms like Bolt Burdon Kemp, personal injury caseloads will inevitably include a large proportion of cases arising from serious Road Traffic Accidents.

The legal basis for demonstrating liability in such accidents tends to be in what is known as ‘negligence’.  So, for example, where a driver fails to exercise care, they can be held liable in negligence for a claimant’s injuries and for financial losses arising as a result.  What is yet to be clarified is the legal position following the introduction of AVT whereby a claimant sustains injuries in a Road Traffic Accident in the absence of negligence on the part of a vehicle owner/driver.  In these circumstances, it may be seen as unjust to apportion blame to a vehicle owner where it can be shown that the vehicle’s software is to blame.

Beyond proving fault, when accidents do occur, one of the first steps claimant solicitors will take is to investigate the defendant driver’s insurance position.  Vehicle owners in the UK are required to hold at least a third party insurance policy against which an injured claimant can secure damages.

This will be explored further in a future blog but there appears to be a general consensus that legislative changes will be needed to ensure that claimants do not face an unduly complex procedure to recover damages. Motor insurers should not be allowed to deflect claims onto manufacturers of automated vehicles under product liability laws.  In this regard, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has drafted its initial response to the Government’s consultation here.

Summary

This is an exciting topic and one that isn’t going away.  This is demonstrated by the level of interest and on-going contribution from major stakeholders.  As we will discuss, AVT will affect legislators, drivers, and perhaps less obviously, the NHS and even the disabled.

Over the coming weeks, Ben and I will seek to highlight some of the potential issues that may be faced by clients and the industry in the future as a result.  We hope you will find it useful.

Josh Hughes is an Associate solicitor and the Head of the Complex Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Medical Negligence claims. If you or a loved one are concerned about the treatment you have received, contact me free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4817 or at JoshHughes@boltburdonkemp.co.uk for specialist legal advice. Alternatively, you can complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Medical Negligence team will contact you. You can find out more about the Accident Claims team.

[1] https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/automation-to-take-67000-legal-jobs-society-predicts/5063496.article#commentsJump

[2] http://www.claimsmag.co.uk/2017/11/keoghs-unveils-ai-insurance lawyer/9682?dm_i=FOB,5AAFL,LJ3DL1,KDW7V,1

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-39691540

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/driverless-cars-uk-budget-autumn-philip-hammond-legal-restrictions-law-rule-change-trials-a8062931.html

[5] http://fortune.com/2016/06/07/autonomous-car-sales-ihs/

[6] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170424174209/https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/536365/driverless-cars-proposals-for-adas-and_avts.pdf

Posted by: Josh Hughes

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