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What Happens After a Nevada Self-Driving Car Crash?

nevada self driving car crash

Self-driving cars are becoming more and more common, with multiple manufacturers investigating this technology for their newest vehicles. Not only can autonomous vehicles help remove human error from the equation, potentially reducing the risk of serious accidents, but they can also be programmed to specifically avoid crashes.

However, this technology isn’t yet foolproof, and there are already news reports about accidents involving one or more self-driving vehicles. What happens after an autonomous vehicle accident? How is fault determined, and whose insurance company pays for the damages? 

Below, learn more about the regulation of autonomous vehicles in Nevada and who may be at fault for a self-driving car accident, as well as the steps to take if you’re ever involved in an accident with a self-driving car. 

How Are Autonomous Vehicles Registered in Nevada?

Under Nevada law, any manufacturers or developers who want to test an autonomous or self-driving vehicle within the state will need to submit an “Autonomous Vehicle Testing Registry Application” to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Once the DMV has ensured the applicant meets all requirements, it will then issue a certificate of compliance for testing purposes. 

This process is designed to ensure that only vehicles that pass the state’s stringent safety testing requirements can be road-legal.

Does Nevada Have Self-Driving Car Laws?

Many states don’t have laws that specifically govern self-driving vehicles. Instead, most state laws address motor vehicle accidents generally.

However, Nevada is an exception—its laws for autonomous vehicles are found in the Nevada Revised Statutes 482A. These laws include: 

  • A requirement that manufacturers must meet detailed vehicle testing and safety requirements before vehicles can be driven on the road
  • A requirement that manufacturers maintain at least a $5 million insurance policy in order to test the vehicle on Nevada roads
  • A mechanism by which a self-driving car operator can take control of the vehicle in an emergency

Additionally, all autonomous vehicle operators must have a special endorsement that allows them to drive the vehicle. They also must carry state insurance minimums for at-fault accidents, no matter how safe the autonomous vehicle is reported to be. 

Who is Liable in a Self-Driving Car Crash?

In most crashes, there are up to four potentially liable parties: the driver; the passenger (in a self-driving car); the vehicle manufacturer; or some other third party (for example, the state or local highway department). In crashes involving two or more vehicles, there may be multiple parties at fault for the crash.

Before exploring liability, it’s important to differentiate between the different self-driving vehicles available. Currently, there are no fully autonomous vehicles for retail sale; the closest is a “full self driving” vehicle like Tesla. 

Full self driving (FSD) technology requires a driver to be in the driver seat while the car pilots itself. If the technology malfunctions or makes a mistake, the driver can then take control of the vehicle to prevent an accident.  

Driverless technology is on its way, and presents more of a conundrum for lawmakers and insurance companies. In these cases, where the human driver has no duty to take over the car in the event of a tech malfunction (and may not even be sitting in the front seat), any liability for an at-fault accident would instead be on the company that manufactured the vehicle or designed the self-driving software.

As these vehicles are rolled out on a wider basis, the case law and statutes governing self-driving vehicles are likely to continue to evolve. 

The Vehicle Operator

If the self-driving car’s operator is deemed at fault for the accident—whether through their own error or by failing to step in and take control of the vehicle to avoid an accident—that operator’s insurance will be responsible for compensating anyone who was injured. An injured person may need to show that the operator wasn’t paying attention, acted in a reckless or negligent way, or otherwise violated their duty of care to other drivers. 

The Vehicle Manufacturer 

Mistakes happen, and sometimes these mistakes impact the safety or reliability of a vehicle. If some aspect of the vehicle fails—brakes, transmission, or engine—and this mechanical failure causes an accident, the vehicle manufacturer may be held responsible for any damages that result. (Depending on the circumstances, the vehicle manufacturer may also bring in a third party manufacturer who made any defective component parts, holding them liable if defects in these parts contributed to the accident.) 

Manufacturers may also be held liable under a theory of “failure to warn.” If a manufacturer becomes aware that their product is defective or causing injury to those who use it, yet does nothing to warn potential customers or recall the product to make repairs, the manufacturer could be responsible for any accidents that are attributed to its own failure to warn.

The Software Designer

Another important component of any self-driving vehicle is the software that allows the vehicle to be self-driving in the first place. This software relies on a variety of sensors that non-autonomous vehicles just don’t have. The complexity of this technology is one of the reasons self-driving vehicle software hasn’t yet been perfected. 

If an injured plaintiff can show that a defect in the software or programming caused their self-driving car to crash, they may be able to collect damages from the software engineer or designer. 

Determining who is responsible in a car crash involving a self-driving car can be a challenge, even under the best of conditions. In some cases, the fault for an accident may not be clear, even after a trial; in others, multiple parties may be at fault, each seeking to minimize their share of the blame.

Under Nevada’s comparative fault laws, a plaintiff may recover damages from an at-fault party even if the plaintiff themselves had some shared responsibility for the accident. So long as the plaintiff’s total share of fault is less than 50 percent, they can recover from the defendant(s); but their ability to recover will be diminished by their own proportion of fault. This helps compensate plaintiffs in situations where they might have been able to avoid getting into an accident but also weren’t the primary cause of it. 

For example, if a plaintiff is found to have suffered $100,000 in damages, but is also deemed to be 25 percent at fault for their own injuries, that plaintiff will be able to recover a maximum of $75,000 from all defendants—the full $100,000 judgment minus the 25 percent of fault shared by the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is deemed to be 49 percent at fault, they’ll be able to recover $51,000; however, if the plaintiff is 50 percent at fault, they can’t recover anything.

In addition, if there are two defendants that are deemed liable for a self-driving car crash, both defendants will be responsible for the full $75,000—but to prevent a double recovery, this judgment will be satisfied as soon as one party pays the full $75,000 (or as soon as two parties pay $37,500 each). 

What Damages Are Available in a Self-Driving Car Crash?

Anyone injured in a self-driving car crash may be entitled to recover both compensatory and punitive damages from the at-fault party. If the at-fault party doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay these costs, the injured person’s insurance company may cover the costs instead (under an uninsured or underinsured motorist policy), then seek reimbursement under the at-fault party’s insurance policy.

Compensatory damages are those designed to compensate the plaintiff for their actual cash losses, the physical pain they’ve suffered, and any other quantifiable economic losses. These damages can include: 

  • Medical expenses
  • Therapy costs
  • Property damage
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning potential
  • Other out-of-pocket costs associated with the accident

In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages are also available. Punitive damages aren’t necessarily connected to any losses suffered by the plaintiff—instead, they’re designed purely to punish the at-fault party and deter future misbehavior from others. As a result, punitive damages are generally only available in the most egregious cases.

Talk to Hale Injury Law, a Nevada Personal Injury Attorney 

No matter who is to blame for an accident, injured victims deserve to be compensated. An experienced personal injury attorney such as Hale Injury Law can help you investigate the case, research potential legal theories and arguments, and develop the strongest possible case. If you or a loved one has been injured in a self-driving car accident, contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.