Where Tech Meets Tort: A Survey of Geistfeld’s Approach to Autonomous Vehicles and the Civil Liability Regime

Abstract: This paper explores how advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) interact with the current civil liability regime. Section I discusses different driving technologies, from least to most advanced (ADAS to AVs), while highlighting the legal issues posed by each system. These driving technologies have shortcomings that can be demonstrated by examples of collisions involving both advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles. After explicating how the existing civil liability regime would likely manage motor vehicle accidents involving ADAS technologies, this paper turns to the faults of AVs, then introduces the three-part solution proposed by Mark Geistfeld—Sheila Lubetsky Birnbaum Professor of Civil Litigation at New York University School of Law. Section I concludes, in general agreement with Geistfeld, that problems raised by ADAS can largely be resolved within the civil liability regime through a traditional negligence analysis. Consequently, this paper narrows its focus to fully autonomous vehicles. In Section II, Geistfeld’s proposed resolutions to the central issues arising from the interaction between autonomous vehicles and the civil liability regime are analyzed. Ultimately, Geistfeld believes the lack of interjurisdictional consistency regarding products liability laws creates uncertainty for manufacturers when assessing their liability exposure for the production and sale of AVs—his primary reason for proposing federal safety regulations. This paper concludes that Geistfeld’s proposed federal regulations, in conjunction with state tort law, create a comprehensive solution to the primary issues posed by AVs. However, due to the status of National Highway of Transportation Safety Administration standards surrounding automated driving technologies, it is unclear whether the sweeping reform Geistfeld advocates for will be realized any time soon.

 

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