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Uber Avoids Lawsuit; Settles with Family of Woman Killed

wrongful death

Uber Technologies has avoided a lawsuit after successfully settling with the husband and daughter of the woman struck and killed by a self-driving vehicle on March 18th. There was no indication that the family had filed against Uber in connection with the crash; however, the settlement, occurring less than two weeks after the crash, was confirmed by an attorney for the victim’s family, but no details were provided.

The Los Angeles Times reported that two Uber representatives, Sarah Abboud and Matthew Wing separately declined to comment in response to queries from the AP about the settlement. The company had previously expressed sympathy for the victim and her family.

By avoiding future civil litigation with the victim’s family, Uber has dodged the possibility of the courts establishing a legal precedent over liability in autonomous vehicle accidents. However, the settlement has no effect on the ongoing police investigation.

In a dashcam video released by Uber after the accident, Elaine Herzberg, age 49, can be seen crossing a street in Tempe Arizona. Herzberg’s death is believed to be the first involving a pedestrian killed by a self-driving vehicle. An internal camera in the vehicle shows the human safety driver, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, mostly looking down, rather than at the road just moments prior to the crash.

The crash has raised numerous questions about Uber’s ability and readiness to deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as liability questions when such crashes take place. Although Herzberg was not in a marked crosswalk, the video illustrates how the self-driving vehicle, as well as its backup driver, failed to protect her as she entered the roadway.

Uber has halted its self-driving testing in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Toronto, and the company has been working with police and federal authorities to learn more about the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board says that its investigation will take up to fourteen (14) months. Further, both Arizona and California have rescinded permission for the company to test its vehicles on public roads.

The fallout from the accident could stall the development and testing of self-driving vehicles, which are designed to perform better than human drivers, and therefore, are expected to reduce the number of motor vehicle fatalities. As stated above, Uber has halted its testing. In addition, Toyota Motor Corp and Nvidia Corp have also suspended testing on public roads, as they await the results of the investigation.

Although Arizona suspended its permission, Governor Doug Ducey continued to express his support for autonomous vehicle programs. The Mercury News quoted Governor Ducey as stating that Arizona is “going to continue to work on making [its] roads and highways safer. We believe autonomous vehicles can help do that.” He did go on to say, though, that the accident is an unquestionable failure to comply with the expectation that public safety is to be the top priority.

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