19 Feb 2019

Autonomous Uber Vehicle Kills Pedestrian, Lawsuits Filed

Whenever there is an accident that involves either severe injury or a tragic fatality, it can be challenging to determine just who is to blame. While most would assume it is always the driver’s fault in the case of a pedestrian and automobile crash that may not necessarily be true. In the case of a woman who was killed last March when an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed her as she was attempting to cross the street.

In a story appearing in the Phoenix New Times, a claim against the State of Arizona was filed by the surviving family of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg who was struck on March 18th, 2018 by an autonomous Volvo C90 that was being driven in autonomous mode.

The $10 million lawsuit filed against the state is similar to the one that was filed by Herzberg’s family against the city of Tempe. This suit against the state alleges that Governor Ducey’s executive order in 2015 that authorized the testing of autonomous vehicles and according to the documents filed with the court was “created negligently and without sufficient investigation into the safety of Uber’s autonomous vehicles. Any oversight provided by a committed, ADOT, or DPS, was wholly insufficient, and placed an unreasonably high risk of harm to the citizens of Arizona.”

Governor Dulcey said during a press confidence he gave in 2016 that although the state of California had, in his words, “….put the brakes on innovation,” he wouldn’t do that. The suit further alleges that because Governor Dulcey desired to foster technology and innovation within the state without careful consideration. It caused Arizona’s roadways “unreasonably dangerous” at the expense of its citizens. This unreasonable risk, the lawsuit alleges, is what caused Herzberg’s death.

While Uber has already settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of Herzberg’s daughter and husband for an undisclosed amount, it is still undetermined whether the Uber Driver, Rafaela Vasquez, will be charged for having failed to avoid hitting Herzberg.

Even autonomous vehicles will occasionally require the attention and even intervention of a driver to avoid an accident. Phone records obtained in the investigation show that Vasquez had been streaming video just before the fatal crash. Interior video from inside the Uber also shows that Vasquez had not been looking at the road and made no evasive actions to avoid hitting Herzberg with her vehicle.

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