Daughter of Uber autonomous vehicle
victim retains lawyer
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[March 23, 2018]
By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, Ariz (Reuters) - The daughter of
the woman killed by an Uber [UBER.UL] self-driving vehicle in Arizona
has retained a personal injury lawyer, underlying the potential high
stakes of the first fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle.
The law firm of Bellah Perez in Glendale, Arizona, said in a statement
on Thursday it was representing the daughter of Elaine Herzberg, who
died on Sunday night after being hit by the Uber self-driving SUV in the
Phoenix suburb of Tempe.
"As the first pedestrian death involving an Uber autonomous vehicle, the
incident has sparked a national debate about the safety of self-driving
cars, exposing the technology's blind spots and raising questions of
liability," the law firm said.
The firm did not immediately return phone calls seeking more
Fall-out from the accident could stall the development and testing of
self-driving vehicles, which are designed to perform far better than
human drivers and sharply reduce the number of motor vehicle fatalities
that occur each year.
The fatality also presents an unprecedented liability challenge because
self-driving vehicles, which are still in the development stage, involve
a complex system of hardware and software often made by outside
suppliers. The specifics of how Uber's technology operates are not
On Thursday a group of 10 Democratic senators cited the fatality in
Tempe in a letter sent to Uber and 59 other companies including Ford
Motor Co <F.N> and Tesla Inc <TSLA.O> highlighting how the use of forced
arbitration clauses to settle customer disputes would prevent victims of
accidents involving self-driving vehicles from exercising their legal
The senators, led by Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, noted that Uber includes
forced arbitration in its standard terms of service with users.
"Had the victim been a passenger ... the victim's family could have been
denied recourse through the courts," the letter read. The senators asked
the companies to commit to not using the arbitration clauses in
contracts related to self-driving cars.
"When injury or death does occur, a forced arbitration clause would
prevent consumers from exercising their fundamental legal rights as
Americans," the senators wrote.
Many companies include forced arbitration clauses in contracts with
customers, requiring that any disputes be settled in binding arbitration
and barring customers from suing in a court of law. Arbitration rulings,
generally, cannot be appealed.
[to top of second column]
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators
examine a self-driving Uber vehicle involved in a fatal accident in
Tempe, Arizona, U.S., March 20, 2018. A women was struck and killed
by the vehicle on March 18, 2018. National Transportation Safety
Board/Handout via REUTERS
Herzberg, 49, who was homeless, was jay-walking across a divided
four-lane road with her bicycle when she was struck while in the far
right-hand lane. A video taken from a dash-mounted camera inside the
vehicle that was released by Tempe police on Wednesday showed the
SUV traveling along a dark street when suddenly the headlights
illuminate Herzberg in front of the SUV.
She later died from her injuries.
Other footage showed the human driver who was behind the wheel
mostly looking down and not at the road in the seconds before the
Uber, like many other companies testing self-driving vehicles, has a
human driver in each vehicle as a monitor and to act as a backup if
Few details of the incident have emerged amid the investigations by
police and federal safety regulators. Police have said the vehicle,
a Volvo XC90 which was operating in autonomous mode, was traveling
at about 40 mile per hour (65 km per hour) at the time of the
collision and did not appear to brake.
Police have said that following their probe, they will submit the
case to the Maricopa County Attorney's office, which will determine
if there is any basis for a case for potential criminal prosecution.
One key question for investigators will be how the vehicle's
technology failed to notice the pedestrian crossing the street in
front of it, despite the darkness. Self-driving cars typically use a
combination of sensors, including radar and light-sensing Lidar, to
identify objects, including potential obstacles coming into range.
In company presentations, Uber has stated its self-driving
technology includes sensors that provide a 360-degree view around
(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Additional reporting by David
Shepardson in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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