Amid speculation by some that Google driverless vehicles might just bankrupt personal injury attorneys, others are saying, “hey, not so fast.” More and more, we are hearing stories of forced wage increases for fast food workers by politicians trying to get re elected, and a backlash by employers. One recent trend is to outsource jobs to business friendly countries that honor job creators. Another reaction for many service businesses, is employers turning to automated equipment and technology just to avoid the ever increasing government encroachment into their feast or famine businesses. Even Google, heavily invested in the progressive wing of the democrat party, seemingly is leading the way to replace the human element with technology.
Good or bad, the old model of forming unions, demanding benefits and other free stuff from people giving you a chance to gain work experience, especially for our youth, is falling apart. The new future for America is technology, not necessarily spending a large part of your life on a utopian college campus. Robert Kiasaki explained this years ago, but it appears that the need for re-election votes is fueling the decline of employer, employee relationships at a faster rate than technology is probably ready for.
So naturally, entrepreneurs that are seeking to achieve what is left of the American Dream are having to come up with creative ways of surviving these days. One example is in grocery store self checkouts. Cashiers are expensive when compared to grocers, for example. Consumers like me find it to be a hassle, so we stand in line to have a human cashier help us, as these self checkers remain unused in some cases. Of course, once the technology is improved, the goods will be automatically charged when you place them in your shopping cart, and the human cashier will be looking for another job. In other words, once the hassle factor is removed from technological advances, shoppers simply won’t miss the human cashier anymore.
In my last article dealing with Google’s new driverless vehicles, I discussed the potential driverless vehicle downside to PI attorneys, as well as the car accident field of PI law in general. I went into the fact that Google and other companies perhaps could even shield themselves from legal liability by forming partnerships with the government, similar to the Metrolink and Metro Rail systems. Then, a few weeks ago, I ran across another tragic story involving a Google driverless vehicle running over and killing a dog. That really got me thinking about my kids, especially small toddlers that are too small or low to the ground to be picked up by the current sensing technology.
In any event, this gives me a chance to discuss California law as it relates to the negligent killing of a family pet, using this latest and strange example of what seems to be coming our way with technological advances. The facts relate that Google is investigating itself over a “Street View Car” that ran over a doggy in Chile. Mapping the world is one of Google’s special features that other search engines and mapmakers do not have. In this case, images from a Street View car in Chile shows what appears to be a camera carrying vehicle running over a dog and leaving it for dead.
The scene can be watched shot by shot on Google Maps by following the Meza Bell 2815. The dog is shown walking in front of the car and then the rear facing camera shows the canine lying on the road without movement. Even following the zoom view back as far as it can go, the dog still does not get up off the roadway. Upon closer inspection, in one image the dog can be seen moving, but not getting up. This means it could either be severely injured or lying on the pavement for enjoyment. The other thing that can be seen is a person, who does not rush to the canine. This may mean one of two things.
Either the dog was not hit, or it is in an area where there is a large population of stray dogs and it is not unusual for one to be hit. Google has stated that it is investigating the images of the camera vehicle and dog to see what happened. They said they have guidelines in place to protect people and animals while mapping locations around the world.
The search engine company stated this type of alleged incident is not uncommon. January of last year a camera vehicle was accused of hitting a donkey in Botswana when images of the Street View showed the donkey walking along side of the vehicle and then lying on the ground. Google proved the images were not what they appeared to be and it was not a hit and run incident. Go here to view some more of the disturbing pictures.
Who Do I Sue If Google Runs Over My Pet?
Assuming arguendo in this case that the incident took place in California, and it could be proved that your family dog, or cat was killed by a Google Driverless Vehicle, then what? Assuming there was no alliance between the state, local or federal government that would shorten the time for you to file a government claim, potential defendants would include Google, the government, manufacturers and producers of the car and sensing equipment, and any other party in the chain of commerce that brought the vehicle to the end user. If there was an occupant in the car with the ability to control or co pilot the car, then the occupant is also a potential defendant for all damages that were foreseeable.
What Kind of Damages Can I Get If Google Runs Over My Animal in California?
For purposes of this discussion, we will limit this discourse to California law, since I am only licensed to practice in this state. Under California law, an animal is considered property, so it is treated as “economic” damages ONLY. This means you can recover costs of the economic losses associated with the animal. Some cases involving the loss of an animal can be quite significant. A prize horse run over by a Google car could result in millions of dollars in economic losses for the market replacement value. It could turn out that the age, breed, training, purchase price, characteristic or other trait, gave it some extra-ordinary value. We can imagine a specially trained guard, seeing eye, or show dog that does AKC shows would have special value, and they do. But again, this is economic value, not sentimental value, which is pretty intangible when it comes to “property.”
A donkey being run over by a driver-less vehicle, is probably worth very little. If the donkey is used for work, the replacement value of the donkey, and lost work can be argued as damages. In most of the common cases, cars run over stray, or family dogs and cats. May drivers typically swerve to avoid animals crossing the road. And with good reason, California criminal statutes seek to prosecute people that violate the rights of animals. Some prosecutorial agencies, such as the City of Los Angeles, actually have their own “Animal Protection Units.”
The Vehicle Code also comes into play here, and seeks to maintain safe driving for the conditions presented on the road. Sometimes not swerving could be animal abuse, other times not swerving could result in a negligent chain collision, or a vehicle pile-up placing the driver civilly liable. In other words, the driver is expected to be mindful of all of this, because we are all”presumed to know the law.” The damages available sometimes will come in the form of a probation agreement and court order to pay as part of probation. These damages are in the form of “restitution.” These are typically what we see in DUI accident cases, when a drunk driver has to pay back the other crash victims or face “working it off” in jail.
Other damages you can seek as a grieving victim, could be the veterinarian bills for example. In some California jurisdictions, we have even seen awards that appear to be for “sentimental”, or peculiar value, which is something that most pet owning victims “really” want to begin with. In one unique case, a California jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and found that the dog was only worth ten dollars “replacement” value. But clearly, the jury was moved and wanted to find a way to send a message of sympathy. In that case, the trier of fact awarded an additional $30,000 for the “special value” of the dog, whatever that is. California law allows such an award if an item has “peculiar value” to the owner, and the person who harmed it knew that fact. But each case is different, and the cause of the death of the dog was due to veterinary malpractice.
Unless you can show some kind of special duty, as above, it is unlikely the loss of your dog will result in this types of peculiar value claims from what I am seeing in most jurisdictions however. Punitive damages and emotional distress are the newer forms of damages that creative lawyers are seeking to increase the value of these cases. Insurance companies, and house counsel for companies like Google, as well as co-defendants are likely to argue that most of these cases are at the low end of the value spectrum. Most courts will probably agree. It is also foreseeable that these cases could clog our already underfunded courts, so I doubt these cases are the new thing, at least not yet.
If this technology is rushed, I can see not only dog and cat cases, but those involving children. The race to replace humans with machines has many unintended consequences. The government is unwittingly encouraging the mass exodus to machines and technology, and the fallout could mean many lawsuits and claims against companies like Google, or Amazon, for delivery drones crashing, etc. Many injury lawyers may cash in on these cases, since they may be easy settlements. Also, Google probably is not interested in dealing with massive amounts of small claims actions, which as sure to occur should the driverless vehicle be a safety flop.