What’s on the docket this week:
- Featured Story – First Person Charged With A Felony From A Fatal Crash Of A Self-Driving Car
- 🗄 IP/Transactional – Winnie-the-Pooh Rings in The New Year by Entering the Public Domain
- 🤺 Litigation – John Deere Hit With Lawsuit for Alleged Tractor Repair Monopoly
- 📲 Legaltech – Court Data is a Litigator’s Secret Weapon
- 🔪 Criminal/Politics – Alabama Police Suck Drivers Into Legal “Black Hole”
- 💰 Finance/Econ/Regulatory – New Antitrust Strategy Emerges From Book Publishing Merger
- ⚖️ Ethics – Judges Should Avoid Hookers & Blow With Congressman
Featured Story: First Person Charged With A Felony From A Fatal Crash Of A Self-Driving Car
Recently, a defendant became the first person to be charged with a felony in the United States for a fatal crash involving a motorist who was using a partially automated driving system (Model S “Autopilot”). Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges in October, but they came to light only last week.
The families of the deceased sued Tesla and the driver in separate lawsuits. They alleged negligence by the driver and have accused Tesla of selling defective vehicles that can accelerate suddenly and that lack an effective automatic emergency braking system. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023.
So what does this mean for Tesla and all of us who will eventually own cars with some degree of self driving systems? Who is liable when a self-driving car wrecks? The driver or the designer/manufacturer of the self driving system?
I remember having discussions about this waaaayyy back in 2011 on blogs & the Twitters with lawyer Max Kennerly, and I still agree with his take on it. Max suggested we go back to the initial case which established the “crashworthiness doctrine,” Larsen v. General Motors Corporation, 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968).
The court held “We perceive of no sound reason, either in logic or experience, nor any command in precedent, why the manufacturer should not be held to a reasonable duty of care in the design of its vehicle consonant with the state of the art to minimize the effect of accidents. The manufacturers are not insurers but should be held to a standard of reasonable care in design to provide a reasonably safe vehicle in which to travel.”
To quote Max: “Liability for autonomous cars shouldn’t be any different: if an autonomous car causes a crash, then the manufacturer will be liable if they did not use “reasonable care” in designing, programming, and testing the car.”
Which means in the future, auto accident lawsuits are going to be less like personal injury cases…and become more like product liability cases. Plan accordingly.
Winnie-the-Pooh Rings in The New Year by Entering The Public Domain
While copyright laws in many countries allow works to go into the public domain 70 years after the death of their creator, in the U.S. a 1998 law states that most works become public 95 years after their creation. Copyrighted books, films, and songs from 1926, became available at the start of the year, including the original Winnie-the-Pooh stories, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and poem collections by Langston Hughes and Dorothy Parker. 2022 also marks the first time early sound recordings will become available, thanks to the 2018 Music Modernization Act.
John Deere Hit With Lawsuit for Alleged Tractor Repair Monopoly
John Deere is being accused of deliberately monopolizing the market for repair and maintenance of its agricultural equipment by making crucial software and repair tools inaccessible to farmers and independent repair shops. This class action lawsuit is the latest battle in the ongoing right-to-repair movement that seeks to stop companies like Deer from making it harder for people to fix the stuff they’ve bought. Illegally “tying” customers to company-authorized service centers through arbitrary means is a practice that’s gained a lot of legislative and activist attention recently and is likely to lead to a more in-depth review of current antitrust laws.
Court Data is a Litigator’s Secret Weapon
Despite its historic difficulty of being obtained, state court data could pose as a powerful tool for litigators and give them a leg up during difficult cases. The Pacer system collects data on federal courts and with new technology from companies like Trellis, litigators will have the opportunity to expand from internal to external sourcing to make better strategic decisions on state court cases.
Alabama Police Suck Drivers Into Legal “Black Hole”
A small town in Alabama has had its finances skyrocket in the past few years due to record numbers of traffic tickets and aggressive policing. From 2018 to 2020 this town’s revenue’s from fines and forfeitures soared more than 640% and now make up half the city’s total income. Many officers have been accused of fabricating charges and “making up” laws to stack counts on alleged violators, which begs the question, are people really safer as a result of these practices?
New Antitrust Strategy Emerges From Book Publishing Merger
In November 2020, Penguin Random House announced it had reached a deal to purchase Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS for over $2 billion. A year later, the Department of Justice filed a civil suit to block the proposed deal on the basis that the two companies working together would cause potential harm to workers (in this case, authors). Penguin Random House offered a counter-argument by claiming that the combined entity could serve as a more potent competitor to Amazon, which would enhance opportunities for authors. If the DOJ succeeds in its case against the publishers, several other industries may face similar scrutiny.
Judges Should Avoid Hookers & Blow With Congressman
Discipline: Removed from the bench.
Until next week, adjourned.
p.s. – please send me your stories, news, & tips for inclusion in future editions [email protected]