Uber Reaches Settlement with Family of Fatal Crash Victim

By: Bridget Clerkin April 4, 2018
Uber attorneys paid out an undisclosed settlement to the family of an Arizona woman who was killed when one of the company's autonomous Volvos struck and killed her as she attempted to cross a street on the night of March 18.
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Uber Technologies Inc. has reached a settlement with the husband and daughter of the woman who was struck and killed by one of the company’s self-driving vehicles in Tempe, Arizona last month.

Representatives of both Uber and the family members, whose names were not released, declined to elaborate on the terms of the settlement, with the family’s attorney only saying they considered the matter “resolved.”

The undisclosed legal agreement was reached on March 28, just 10 days after the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49, who died from injuries sustained in a late-night accident, when she was struck by the self-driving car while crossing the street. An Uber test driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was behind the wheel at the time of the incident but failed to prevent the crash.

While Herzberg’s family may consider the matter settled, a number of questions still linger in the wake of the first pedestrian death caused by an autonomous car, many of which revolve around the distribution of liability in such a case.

With a lack of legal precedent to reference, it remains unclear who could ultimately be held responsible for the accident. Conceivably, Vasquez could be sued for vehicular negligence, as dashcam video of the incident shows her barely looking at the road in the moments leading up to the crash; and the state of Arizona itself could even feasibly be on the hook for its lax regulations on autonomous cars. (The state only requires any company testing the technology there to acquire the minimum amount of liability insurance.)

In the wake of the settlement, neither of those scenarios seem likely, though a federal investigation into the matter is ongoing, which could raise still other possibilities for potential legal fallout.

In the meantime, Arizona officials banned Uber from testing its autonomous cars on state roads in the future, and several companies, including Toyota, microchip producer Nvidia, and Boston-based self-driving start-up NuTonomy have proactively—if temporarily—suspended their respective autonomous vehicle testing.

Still, the likelihood of such a tragedy reoccurring in a future wherever companies are experimenting with self-driving technology on public roads means the issue of liability will have to be settled eventually. Now might be a good time for Washington to reexamine—and refine—the self-driving regulation bill that currently sits stagnant in the Senate.

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