The case of Oscar Willhelm Nilsson v. General Motors Co., case number 3:18-cv-00471, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California details a lawsuit brought to court by motorcycle driver Oscar Willhelm Nilsson. The case presents a personal injury complaint by the plaintiff Oscar Willhelm Nilsson after being hit by one of General Motors Co.’s self-driving vehicles. On December 7, 2017, Nilsson alleged that he was directly injured by one of General Motors Co.’s self-driving cars, a Cruise Automation 2016 Chevrolet Bolt, as the car indicated that it was turning left before ultimately swerving back into its original lane; therefore, the autonomous car never changed lanes into the one it had indicated, thus injuring Nilsson.
The autonomous injury presents a flaw in the technology of GM’s self-operating vehicles and a crash that resulted from an autonomous vehicle. This specific case of Mr. Nilsson v. General Motors Co. took place in December of 2017 and in San Francisco, California. Allegations of fact detail that Mr. Nilsson was driving his motorcycle on the middle lane when the driver of the Cruise Automation 2016 Chevrolet Bolt vehicle, Mr. Salazar, was driving at the same time and place as Mr. Nilsson. At this point, the vehicle was in self-driving mode where the auto-mode feature was activated. As the automated actions of GM’s vehicle took over, Mr. Salazar sat back and took his eyes off the road, allowing the self-driving vehicle to maneuver autonomously.
For a while, Mr. Nilsson was driving his motorcycle in the same middle lane, directly behind Mr. Salazar. It came to a point when Mr. Salazar had indicated that he was merging left. Upon seeing his left signal on, Mr. Nilsson assumed so as well; therefore, Mr. Nilsson proceeded straight in his lane once Mr. Salazar had completed the left lane change. The Cruise Automation 2016 Chevrolet Bolt vehicle reverted back into the original lane that Mr. Nilsson was currently in and hit motorcyclist Mr. Nilsson. Due to the self-driving vehicle’s sudden change of direction back into the original lane that Mr. Nilsson was concurrently in, the plaintiff Mr. Nilsson suffered numerous neck and shoulder injuries that have required “lengthy treatment” and have forced him to take disability leave from his job, as stated by the complaint. Nilsson was represented by Trinette G. Kent and Sergei Lemberg of Lemberg Law LLC.
Representatives for GM were Spencer Peter Hugret of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani LLP and Darin James Lang of Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough LLP. GM reported an alternative perspective of the events that took place on December 7, 2017. General Motors Co. stated that the car was driving in the middle lane, one of three one-way lanes, when it began to signal to turn into the left adjacent lane; however, a minivan that was directly in front of Mr. Salazar in the middle lane began to slow down and the GM vehicle no longer made the left turn. Without the intention of turning left, the self-driving vehicle ‘re-centered’ itself and stayed in the original center lane. After it abandoned its attempt to switch lanes, the self-driving Cruise Automation 2016 Chevrolet Bolt proceeded in stating that Mr. Nilsson’s motorcycle passed between two vehicles in the center and right lanes before ultimately hitting the side of the GM vehicle and toppling over.
According to the defendant and manufacturer General Motors Co., traffic was allegedly going approximately 12 mph, and so the self-driving car followed and traveled at 12 mph as well. The motorcycle, on the other hand, was traveling at 17 mph. In an email specifically sent out by a GM representative to Law360 in January, the GM representative wrote “in this matter, the San Francisco Police Department collision report stated that the motorcyclist merged into our lane before it was safe to do so.”
Counsel for both sides met and on May 30th, 2018 they filed a joint notice of settlement. The following day, GM announced that the company was already making efforts to further improve the safety and new technology of these self-driving cars. The technology investment firm SoftBank Vision Fund will invest $2.25 billion into the automated driving hardware and software of GM Cruise. SoftBank’s investment will enable GM to improve the development of its autonomous vehicles, as the managing partner of SoftBank Investment Advisers Michael Ronen stated that “GM has made significant progress toward realizing the dream of completely automated driving to dramatically reduce fatalities, emissions, and congestion… [using] fully integrated hardware and software.”
Upon Nilsson being injured and filing the suit, General Motors Co. ultimately agreed to settle the lawsuit.
The case of Oscar Willhelm Nilsson v. General Motors Co., case number 3:18-cv-00471, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California describes just one case of autonomous car injuries and fatalities. While these vehicles are capable of driving without human help, the safety of these vehicles in terms of causing fatalities and injuries must be ensured. A similar case in March of 2018 took place in Tempe, Arizona when a self-driving Uber Volvo was involved in a fatal crash and the self-driving vehicle killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. The manufacturer of the cameras and radar equipment for the Volvo, Aptiv, was quick to state that it doesn’t “want people to be confused or think it was a failure of the technology that [it] suppl[ies] for Volvo, because that’s not the case.” Uber had installed its own technology that was used at the time of the fatal crash, rather than the Volvo’s crash-avoidance equipment that was, in fact, deactivated during the hit. To further the case of the manufacturers of the crash-avoidance technology and equipment for this Volvo, one of the tech industry’s leading companies, Mobileye, who provides the chips and sensors that are used for the car’s crash-avoidance technology, replicated the crash. Mobileye detected the 49-year-old pedestrian one second before the fatal collision; however, the crash-avoidance technology was deactivated by the driver at the time.
This fatal crash has brought up the question about whether Uber is allowed to disable the Volvo’s crash-avoidance technology. While the fatal car crash presents questions about Uber’s safety and disabling of factory equipment, Volvo, too, fears that a case such as this could hurt Volvo itself, especially since its XC90 SUV is the face of Uber’s beginnings with self-driving vehicles. As a result of the autonomous fatality, Uber’s autonomous cars were banned from Arizona and California.