Driverless Cars and the Much Delayed Tort Law Revolution

36 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2016

Date Written: April 14, 2016


The most striking development in the American tort law of the last century was the quick rise and fall of strict manufacturers’ liability for the huge social losses associated with the use of industrial products. The most important factor in this process has been the inability of the courts and academic commentators to develop a workable theory of design defects, resulting in a wholesale return of negligence as the basis of products liability jurisprudence. This article explains the reasons for this failure and argues that the development of digital technology, and the advent of self-driving cars in particular, is likely to force a comprehensive rethinking of products liability, a large-scale return to the principle of strict manufacturers’ responsibility, and a host of other developments of lasting historical and economic significance. The article argues that an integration of manufacturing and insurance industries may be one of these developments.

Keywords: Driverless cars, tort law, strict liability, products liability, insurance, digital technology, negligence, design defects, economics of tort law

JEL Classification: A12, K13, O33

Suggested Citation

Rapaczynski, Andrzej, Driverless Cars and the Much Delayed Tort Law Revolution (April 14, 2016). Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 540, Available at SSRN: or

Andrzej Rapaczynski (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
(212) 854-3421 (Phone)
(212) 854-7946 (Fax)

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