Over a century ago, industrialization and its accompanying increase in workplace injuries were placing substantial pressures on the tort system and its ability to compensate the victims of these injuries. Eventually, the interests of labor and management came together, giving rise to a new administrative compensation system. Unlike tort remedies, this new scheme imposed strict financial responsibility on employers for work-related injuries to their employees. This system of workers’ compensation is still the most far-reaching tort reform ever adopted—promoting safety and compensating for injuries more effectively than tort did both at the time and today. Workers’ compensation has its flaws, but there is no significant desire on anyone’s part to go back to tort.
We are on the verge of another new era, requiring yet another revision to the legal regime. This time, it is our system of transportation that will be revolutionized. Over time, manually driven cars are going to be replaced by automated vehicles. The new era of automated vehicles will eventually require a legal regime that properly fits the radically new world of auto accidents. The new regime should promote safety and provide compensation both more sensibly and more effectively than what could be done under existing tort doctrines governing driver liability for negligence and manufacturer liability for product defects. Like labor and management a century ago, auto manufacturers, consumers, and the public at large—often currently at odds about the tort system—will need to have their interests come together if the new era of automated transportation is to be governed by an adequate legal regime.
Any new approach will have to deal with the long and uneven transition to automated technology, impose substantial but appropriate financial responsibility for accidents on the manufacturers of highly automated vehicles, and provide satisfactory compensation to the victims of auto accidents in the new era. This Article develops and details our proposal for an approach that would accomplish these goals.