Law 360 Article: Forced Arbitration in Autonomous Vehicle Suits Would Be Bad for Companies and Consumers

By now most people are probably aware that self-driving cars (HAVs) are slowly but surely taking to the roads. A recent Law 360 article says that since July, a company called Waymo LLC conducted over 6,200 passenger trips, traveling over 47,000 miles, in autonomous vehicles. Waymo is owned by Alphabet LLC, the same company that owns Google, and is joined by Tesla, Uber, and Lyft in the attempt to bring autonomous vehicles to the road. 

While the relative safety of HAVs is still being determined, it is inevitable that at some point passengers in such vehicles will get hurt and demand to sue the car’s manufacturer for compensation. But due to a trend in which forced arbitration clauses are being included in all manner of consumer contracts, such as cell phone and cable, HAV riders may be forced to play on the manufacturer’s turf when it comes to litigation.

According Law 360 article, though arbitration is thought of as being a less costly way for companies and consumers to settle their legal disputes, when companies frequently use arbitration they can become adept at the process to the point where they rarely lose. So-call “super repeat players,” those who have participated in over 276 arbitrations, have a 97% win rate. This is the first problem the Law 360 article identified – consumers going up against “super repeat players” would stand very little chance of prevailing.

The second problem is that arbitration proceedings and settlements are usually kept confidential, unless both parties agree to make them public. This means that the public will have less access to the valuable information that public lawsuits reveal. Due to the fact that the HAV market is new, and most people still do not completely trust the idea of riding in autonomous vehicles, having the inevitable litigation surrounding HAV liability shrouded in mystery would not be good for the nascent industry.