Carpooling Liability?: Applying Tort Law Principles to the Joint Emergence of Self-Driving Automobiles and Transportation Network Companies

By Jacob D. Walpert

Abstract

Self-driving automobiles have emerged as the future of vehicular travel, but this innovation is not developing in isolation.  Simultaneously, the popularity of transportation network companies functioning as ride-hailing and ride-sharing services have altered traditional conceptions of personal transportation.  Technology companies, conventional automakers, and start-up businesses each play significant roles in fundamentally transforming transportation methods.

These transformations raise numerous liability questions.  Specifically, the emergence of self-driving vehicles and transportation network companies create uncertainty for the application of tort law’s negligence standard.  This Note addresses technological innovations in vehicular transportation and their accompanying legislative and regulatory developments.  Then, this Note discusses the implications for vicarious liability for vehicle owners, duties of care for vehicle operators, and corresponding insurance regimes.  This Note also considers theoretical justifications for tort concepts including enterprise liability.  Accounting for the inevitable uncertainty in applying tort law to new invention, this Note proposes a strict and vicarious liability regime with corresponding no-fault automobile insurance.