As Michael Stipe sang about 20 years ago, it’s the end of the world as we know it…. Well, that was 20 years ago or 40 and we are still here. So, that may be a bit much, but the one thing we learned from the covid pandemic was that it is prudent to spend a little more time thinking about future planning for the black swan or unexpected occurrence. So, on the way TO THE OFFICE today, I was in my car like a good suburbanite and listening to a CNBC guest talking about GM’s push into self-driving cars. I really do think that self-driving cars will be the end of personal injury law. It may be 40 years down the road, but the self-driving car totally obviates the negligence of the average driver causing a car accident. These cases are the bread and butter of personal injury law practices. They are what keeps our skills sharp and allow us to take bigger risks on more challenging cases. So, I think that if the self-driving car goes away, this practice will go away too. Simple as that.
If you go to Vegas, you will see self driving cars passing pretty regularly through major intersections without trouble. On the other hand, if you drive in Philadelphia or its suburbs, you will regularly see people drive into oncoming lanes of traffic, make left on red lights, tailgate, or generally drive like idiots. That is not the general average driver, but it is certainly a daily occurrence if you drive regularly.
Every decade or so, there are sea changes in the profession. Twenty years ago, before I got here to the personal injury land of milk and honey that is Philadelphia County, the insurance law changed to allow insurers to sell limited tort policies. These nominally prevent you from suing for pain and suffering in exchange for a savings of $100 a year of so. They are plainly another point of leverage for the insurance companies. Why did this matter? Well, there were legions of personal injury lawyers, who simply could not adapt to that change and still collect limited tort cases because they are small ham and egger type lawyers. They could not adapt to the change.
As Americans, the world looks at us as the most adaptable, resilient first world nation for a number of reasons. We will or have overcome covid, will make it through recession, will or have survived trump etc. As lawyers, the failure to adapt to limited tort or self-driving cars is simply disastrous.
I don’t know that there is a solution for self-driving cars. Certainly, it is worth thinking about.