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Autonomous cars seem futuristic. Liability questions are current

Self-driving cars aren't even on the radar for the majority of people. But all the experts say that's going to change over the next few decades. The fact is that there are a few fully autonomous vehicles already on the road in states other than Connecticut. But even here there are some vehicles that have semi-autonomous capabilities like adaptive cruise control.

The question this has many observers asking is what this might mean in terms of liability? If an autonomous car gets into an accident and causes property damage, injury or wrongful death, what will holding responsible parties accountable for losses suffered look like and how will those parties be determined?

The easy answer is that insurance companies will continue to be the first line of defense. But who will be the insured; the owners of the vehicles or the manufacturers behind all the computerized gadgetry that make self-driving cars possible?

Many analysts predict that the latter is the more likely scenario. What that suggests is that insurance will shift from what is now a focus on personal liability to one of product liability.

Insurance companies are talking about the possible implications of the shifting fault line, but they acknowledge they're undecided about how to deal with it. They say that their services and offerings are based on predictions of what will happen based on extensive data of events that happened in the past. They also generally presume human error as a factor in crashes. And while they can say with a fair amount of certainty that car accidents will continue to happen, there's very little data available right now to gauge the risk factor for robot cars.

If the developers are right, computerized vehicle travel will be safer for everyone, but it seems we'll have to wait to see how things shake out. In the meantime, there are cars on the road now with varying levels of sensor technology and that adds a layer of liability uncertainty when they get into accidents.

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