Which brings us back to our initial question: if self-driving cars are legal, then who is liable when an accident occurs? The state and federal courts have not weighed in on these issues yet, and by all measures self-driving cars do seem to be safer than regular cars, with only a handful of documented cases where a self-driving car has caused the accident, so it may take some time for the courts to build up a history of jurisprudence regarding self-driving cars.
Thus, at this point, it would seem that the courts will likely apply the same type of legal principles in determining liability in self-driving car accident cases as they do in other cases. Namely, this means applying state negligence, no-fault insurance, and product liability laws to determine whether a defendant is liable.
In New York, an injured party would look to insurance for the first $50,000 of economic damages, but can sue the other party if he or she suffered a serious injury and/or the damages were over $50,000. To recover, the injured party must show that the defendant driver acted negligently. A showing of negligence could be made in a self-driving car accident if it was unreasonable for the driver to operate the self-driving car under the circumstances.
Finally, the makers of the self-driving car could be liable to all injured parties if the injuries were caused by a manufacturing or design defect in the car itself.