From Gary Massey, a Chattanooga Personal Injury Attorney with the law firm of Massey & Associates, P.C.
A bill pending in the United States Senate would, among other things, allow manufacturers and operators of self-driving vehicles to require end-users to enter into binding, confidential arbitration in order to resolve matters, including personal injury disputes.
The law, which is designed to broadly address many of the safety issues associated with self-driving vehicle technology, has already passed the House of Representatives. Proponents of the law argue that because these self-driving vehicles are already on the road, these laws are absolutely necessary in order to ensure that proper guidelines are in place to govern the activity of the manufacturers and operators.
The real hang up on this law is the fact that it allows these operators and manufacturers to require the people buying or using the vehicles to agree to binding arbitration and relinquish any rights they may have to seek redress in court.
Arbitration has been used for decades as a way for manufacturers to limit their legal exposure on certain issues. By requiring an individual to use arbitration as a way to resolve issues, the manufacturers ensure that any decisions related to liability or damages are not left up to juries, but are instead rendered by individual arbitrators, which very often removes much of the emotion from arguments and decisions.
Additionally, arbitration tends to present additional barriers to possible claimants. Very often, the arbitration clause indicates that any arbitration must take place in a specific city and be managed by a specific arbitrator. Additionally, there are often substantial upfront fees that must be borne by claimants in order to even have a matter heard by an arbitrator. These fees can sometimes be insurmountable to individuals who have no real funds to initiate the complaint and often enlist the assistance of attorneys through contingency fees.
If this law is passed in the Senate, it will ensure that self-driving vehicle operators and manufacturers have statutory authority to require end-users to submit to arbitration. Removing the ability of individuals to ask for judgment by a jury of their peers on an issue important to them is removing one of the primary tools used to enforce the law and expose and punish bad actors. With this change affecting one of the newest areas of technological advancement, ensuring accountability through the court system is a necessity.
Gary Massey is a personal injury attorney and founder of Massey & Associates, P.C. located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He graduated from Cumberland School of Law. He can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.