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That’s right. You heard it correctly. No. You didn’t miss any sweeping legislative changes to the Tennessee Justice System just yet. But we can speculate that with the May 5, 2015 introduction by Freightliner of the Inspiration Truck, the first road legal big-rig that can drive itself that there will be some major changes in state and federal laws in the next few years with respect to automated vehicles and accidents involving automated vehicles. These changes may affect the way that lawyers fight on behalf of injury victims who have been hurt in tractor-trailer wrecks. Those involving self-driving trucks may be fought not as conventional truck wreck cases but as product liability cases. This means that the fault of a wreck no longer falls on human error but on the error or defect of a product and its manufacturer- in this case, a semi-truck that drives itself.

For now, the Inspiration Truck is only partially autonomous as it still requires a driver in the same way that a commercial airline pilot has an auto pilot function to take the reins at times. It still requires the driver to oversee all functions. Its “Highway Pilot” technology is meant to save lives and dramatically reduce truck driver fatigue, stress, and even reduce the significant environmental impact conventional tractor-trailers make by better monitoring vehicle speed and conditions more efficiently than human drivers.

If the driver is still required to oversee the functions of vehicle, then the driver and/or the company they represent is still responsible for what happens on the roadway. Yet with continually evolving technologies and less and less need in the future for the driver to oversee an autonomous vehicle’s functions, then liability may have to be re-examined. In fact, TheVerge.com reports that Martin Daum, the president and CEO of Daimler Trucks which owns Freightliner, says that “Liability is not a question for today, but for the future. Certainly before it becomes mass produced- the liability question has to be discussed and has to be solved by the regulators.”

“Just a few states (including California, Nevada, and Florida) and Washington DC currently have laws on the books regarding driverless cars, and their legal status as a whole is murky. For driverless trucking on interstates to be practical, all states would need to explicitly allow these vehicles on public roads,” writes Joseph Stromberg of Vox.com. Google predicts that the Department of Transportation would begin regulating autonomous vehicles nationally as early as 2017.

Truck Wreck to Product Liability: How Will it Change Things

If somewhere in the distant future regulators decide that drivers are no longer required and/or legally liable for causing truck wrecks- how will this theoretically effect injury cases?

Since there would be minus one driver to help explain what happened there will most likely be an even higher emphasis on preserving and presenting evidence at the scene than a standard wreck investigation.

Additionally, in the state of Tennessee, most auto, motorcycle, and truck wreck cases are taken by personal injury lawyers on a contingency basis. This means that the lawyer doesn’t charge a fee until they are able to reach a recovery for their client. If liability is eventually no longer based on a driver’s actions but on the company or manufacturer then the frequency of truck wreck cases (now product liability cases) may force a change to the contingency-based business model as they are more difficult, time-consuming, and costly to litigate.  In fact, many lawyers do not have the financial resources to hire the necessary experts: specifically accident scene reconstructionists and engineers and economists, whose opinions are needed to effectively argue product liability cases. Therefore, (speaking from a theoretical standpoint) in the future many attorneys who do not have resources to pay for these experts up front may ask for all or partial payment for such services on the front end from their clients or a third-party lender which will then be subtracted from the client’s recovery on the back end.

Back to the Future- We’ll Still Have Your Back

While other law firms may struggle to accommodate these very possible future changes- change is no match for Rocky Law Firm. We specialize and represent injury victims in all types of personal injury and products liability cases as well as handle serious auto, motorcycle, and truck wreck cases.    

The laws surrounding our field are always changing, making it difficult for injury victims to seek justice for damages and pain and suffering. Through it all, our firm has managed to continue to bring home landmark verdicts and settlements for deserving injury victims and their families. How? We use cutting edge technologies in and out of the courtroom to illustrate and tell the stories of our clients and to accurately depict how something happened to a judge and jury. We have the financial resources, get our clients to treatment and to be able to hire the necessary experts that can help win cases. At RML, fighting for the people not the powerful is not just our day job. Our lawyers are actively involved not only in their cases but in local and national organizations that help to uphold and defend our justice system and encourage the creation of laws that even the playing field for injury victims. Last, there’s a certain amount of natural ability, confidence and tact that is required to articulate a very technical argument, the hallmark of product liability cases.   Our lawyers have that too.

It would be a great day if we could go home and say that there was never going to be another collision involving an at-fault tractor-trailer because our trucks are now infallible robots. But sadly, that would be naïve. One terrible day in the future, despite all the safety features and benefits of these autonomous 40-ton tanks, there will be a devastating wreck caused by a malfunctioning or defective self-driving big rig or its operator. Someone will be hurt or will have suffered the unimaginable loss of a loved one and they will need help.

The only thing you can be certain of in the future is that Rocky Law Firm will be there.