Search Results for ‘driverless’

Holman Jenkins: Will Tort Law Kill Driverless Cars?

It’s behind a paywall, but the WSJ columnist looks into a question touched on repeatedly in this space and connects it to the unpredictability with which juries may credit expert testimony, as an Oklahoma jury recently did in Toyota litigation:

Toyota had been vigorously fighting hundreds of complaints that its cars are prone to unintended acceleration. Now it’s moving toward a global settlement as a consequence of a single Oklahoma lawsuit that appears to establish that Toyota can’t prevail if it can’t prove a negative—that its software didn’t go haywire in some untraceable and unreplicable manner. …

The Bookout jury was apparently impressed by the testimony of software expert Michael Barr. He said a single “bit flip” (the smallest instance of data corruption) could cause uncontrolled acceleration when the driver had been using cruise control, stopped using cruise control, then resumed using cruise control to let the car accelerate back to its selected speed. …

The connection to Ms. Bookout’s crash, which didn’t involve cruise control and took place on an exit ramp? None, except Mr. Barr claimed that “software failure is consistent with the description of the [Bookout] accident” and “more likely than not” a factor.

Jenkins notes, as have others, that if some mysterious and unreplicable bug is causing Toyotas to accelerate suddenly while disabling the brakes, it seems to differentially appear in cars being driven by elderly drivers, which are greatly overrepresented in the crash statistics.

More: Kyle Graham on whether vaccine liability limits make a plausible precedent for limits on liability for driverless cars.

Driverless-car chasing

The driverless car, it’s increasingly clear, is a technology with transformative potential, and among its key advantages would be its promise in reducing accident rates. Yet without attention to liability reform the progress could stall, according to Megan McArdle. “Even if the overall number of accidents drops, the number of accidents where the automaker is perceived to be at fault will approach 100 percent.” Would a massive, New Zealand-style effort to replace the whole tort system do better? [Bloomberg; more on New Zealand no-fault compensation here, here; the original 1967 Woodhouse report here]

Elizabeth Warren on white-collar prosecution — and what to do instead

My new piece at Cato, citing Carissa Byrne Hessick and Benjamin Levin at Slate, discusses Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to lower the standard for criminal culpability in many white-collar prosecutions to simple negligence. It begins:

Presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) wants to see more business people behind bars, and she’s not fussy about how to make that happen. In a Washington Post op-ed last week she unveiled a new Corporate Executive Accountability Act, which in her words would expand “criminal liability to any corporate executive who negligently oversees a giant company causing severe harm to U.S. families.” She says she wants top executives to know that they can be (again in her own words) “hauled out in handcuffs for failing to reasonably oversee the companies they run.”

And ends:

The civil courts already hear many thousands of cases seeking damages over claims that serious harm arose from industry conduct that falls short of being reckless or deliberately wrongful. Not infrequently – as with claims over supposed “sudden acceleration” in cars, cancer from Roundup, and autoimmune disease from silicone breast implants – large sums get paid even when science finds no basis for concluding the products caused the harms alleged, such is our legal system’s tendency to tilt against business defendants as unsympathetic. Under the Warren standard, complaints that driverless cars have gotten into avoidable accidents or vaccines have caused side effects – maybe even that cheeseburgers, supersize sodas, and margaritas have worsened the harms of obesity – will put business people at risk for long prison terms. To her backers, will this count as a bug? Or a feature?

Aside from the propriety of criminalizing simple negligence, the issue is not so much that individuals as such are the wrong target for white-collar prosecution — as Stephen Bainbridge has argued, holding them personally culpable will often make more sense than prosecuting the corporate entity — as that notions of collective guilt must not be used to impute criminal culpability to others within an organization not proved to have committed wrong acts or acted with wrong mind. While the Warren proposal would march off in the wrong direction, in the Cato Handbook for Policymakers two years ago,
I contributed a chapter on white-collar prosecution with the following recommendations:

Congress and state lawmakers (and where appropriate, the president and executive branch law enforcement officials) should

  • review existing law with an eye toward rolling back overcriminalization and replacing criminal penalties with civil sanctions where feasible;
  • enact reforms such as the model Criminal Intent Protection Act to bolster recognition of mens rea (punishment should ordinarily require a guilty state of mind, not inadvertent noncompliance) as well as the related mistake of law defense in criminal law;
  • codify the common law rule of lenity (ambiguity in law should be resolved against finding guilt), as Texas joined other states in doing in 2015;
  • devise safe harbor provisions that enable economic actors to avoid criminal liability by behaving reasonably and in intended compliance with the law;
  • limit agency discretion to create new crimes without an act of the legislature;
  • enact guidelines to strengthen judicial oversight of deferred prosecution agreements and nonprosecution agreements (explicit court approval, not the unilateral say-so of government prosecutors, should be required for appointment of corporate monitors or the extension of time under supervision);
  • enact asset forfeiture reforms such as Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) Due Process Act, including requiring that conviction be a prerequisite for forfeiture; review and, where appropriate, reduce or coordinate per offense fines and sanctions to avoid levying penalties disproportionate to the gravity of misconduct;
  • prohibit, as a proposed New Mexico law would do, the allocation of settlement moneys (cy pres) to charities, nonprofits, or advocacy groups not themselves injured;
  • assign penalties, forfeitures, and settlement proceeds to the public treasury or, where appropriate in certain cases, to private parties who can show specific individual injury from the offense (penalties should not fund particular government agencies in ways that incentivize zealous enforcement or insulate the agencies from appropriations oversight);
  • prohibit the payment of public lawyers and forensics experts on contingency, that is, in ways dependent on case outcome or the magnitude of penalties (this principle should apply alike to career prosecutors, other staff public lawyers, experts, and outside law firms); existing contingency arrangements should be terminated; and
  • impose transparent principles of selection and payment on outside contracting for legal services.

Labor roundup

  • Great moments in public employee unionism, cont’d: D.C. Metro track inspector charged after derailment with falsifying records wins reinstatement and back pay in arbitration [Max Smith, WTOP, earlier here (similar after fatal smoke incident) and here] Could be permanent? “Bus drivers’ union threatens strike over driverless buses” [Jason Aubry, WCMH (Columbus, Ohio)]
  • Letting guests skip housekeeping = grievance: “Union Threatens Strike over Marriott’s Green Initiative” [Darrell VanDeusen, Kollman & Saucier]
  • Stephen Bainbridge series on what’s wrong with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposals [earlier, etc.] continues with a post on labor co-determination and employee involvement in corporate governance;
  • “Public Sector Unions Win Big at the California Supreme Court: California citizens must now meet and confer with union bosses before qualifying any compensation-related initiatives for the ballot.” [Steven Greenhut, Reason]
  • My Frederick News Post letter to the editor opposing Question D (mandatory binding arbitration and collective bargaining for career firefighters). More on mandatory binding arbitration in the public sector: Ivan Osorio et al on California, for Cato (see pp. 12 et seq.); Steve Eide, Public Sector Inc., 2013.
  • “Waikiki, Hawaii hotel workers decline to join union; the union demands they pay full dues anyway, starts process to garnish their wages. Does the union’s conduct amount to an unfair labor practice? NLRB: No, the union made an honest mistake. D.C. Circuit: That ‘makes no sense.’ The union never apologized or said it made a mistake. Its message to the workers was, ‘We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way.'” [John Kenneth Ross, IJ “Short Circuit”]

Liberating the household garage

The advent of ridesharing and driverless cars will make it an even better idea to relax zoning that bars business use of household garages [Nolan Gray, Market Urbanism]

Plus, mobility and freedom: Randal O’Toole joins Trevor Burrus and Tom Clougherty at Cato “for a discussion on land usage, urban planning, public transit, transportation, and driverless cars.” [Libertarianism.org podcast]

Mass tort roundup

  • New Hampshire lottery: after Granite State’s MTBE contamination suits pays off big, Vermont files its own [WLF Legal Pulse]
  • Supreme Court declines to review various cases arising from Florida’s Engle tobacco litigation [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog, earlier] “U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Fen-Phen Lawyers’ Appeal of $42M Kentucky Verdict” [Insurance Journal, earlier]
  • In action against five drug firms over opioid marketing, California’s Santa Clara County partners with law firms Robinson Calcagnie, Cohen Milstein, and Hagens Berman, marking at least the tenth time the county has teamed up with outside law firms to file suits [Legal NewsLine; earlier on Chicago’s involvement in painkiller suit]
  • Lester Brickman on fraud in mesothelioma litigation [SSRN] “Plaintiff Lawyer Offers Inside Look At `Institutionalized Fraud’ At Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher]
  • “‘Light’ cigarette case vs Huck’s continues after 9 years; Two current judges had been plaintiff’s counsel” [Madison Record, ABA Journal]
  • “If honesty in the judicial system means anything, it means proceeding with candor before the tribunal, which plaintiffs’ counsel did not do during the removal proceedings.” [dissent in Peter Angelos Cashmere Bouquet asbestos case, Legal NewsLine]
  • Report on products liability and the driverless car [John Villasenor, Brookings, earlier]

Product liability roundup