Last week an Uber driverless/ autonomous car struck and killed a pedestrian. This is the first fatality from a fully autonomous vehicle that was using sensors and artificial intelligence to drive itself.   Why is this incident so important?   How does this impact real estate?  Why must you watch what happens in this case?  What is the one question that this incident answers?


Landmark Decisions

The recent fatality was the first from a fully autonomous vehicle.  What happens because of this accident will be precedent setting.  I can guarantee that there will be multiple lawsuits that will ultimately end up at the supreme court.  What happens because of this case will help answer some fundamental questions.

  1. Who is liable? This is the most pressing legal question.  In this case is Uber liable as the “operator” of the vehicle, is the owner of the vehicle liable even though they didn’t create the software, is the maker of the vehicle liable (like ford), is the parts maker liable (whomever made the radar), is the software maker liable?  Nobody really knows until the courts help set the precedent.
  2. Once liability is determined how does this change the landscape? For example, in this case if the court determines that the software maker is liable, this will create huge problems for various developers.  What kind of insurance would they now need to cover for this liability?  Could the software maker even remain in business because of this new liability?  The same question will be asked for whomever is deemed liable at the end of the day.

What about real estate?

Real Estate owners/investors/brokers should be actively watching how this trial unfolds.  The question of liability will have huge implications on property owners.  For example, many commercial properties today are now using autonomous “security” bots to patrol their properties.  For now, these robots record everything they see as they move around the property “patrolling”.  Let’s say one of these bots bumps into a person and they fall down the stairs.  Is the property owner liable for this accident caused by the bot or is the bot manufacturer liable?  Does property insurance even cover this risk?  You can bet someone will get sued!

Unfortunately, the liability issue is not hypothetical as companies continue to integrate technology with “intelligence”.  For example, the Union Pacific railroad has a fleet of unmanned drones that fly over their train yards to spot possible safety infractions of workers (source Wall Street Journal).  The goal is to help keep worksite safer by ensuring workers follow various safety protocols (like not crossing between moving train cars).  This all sounds great until one of the drones crashes and hits a worker or distracts a worker that then gets hurt.  Who is liable in this situation?  Is the property owner?  Is it the tenant occupying the property?  Is it the drone manufacturer?

The liability is not hypothetical?

The recent Uber case will be a test case that is precedent setting.  This case will answer the question of liability that will impact every property owner.  The incident that occurred with the Uber vehicle is no longer hypothetical.  These liability issues are floating around now for property owners; the only unknown is who at the end of the day is the liable party.  Stay tuned to find out if you are the liable party!


Resource/Additional Reading



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Written by Glen Weinberg, COO/ VP Fairview Commercial Lending.  Glen has been published as an expert in hard money lending, real estate valuation, financing, and various other real estate topics in the Colorado Real Estate Journal, the CO Biz Magazine, The Denver Post, The Scotsman mortgage broker guide, Mortgage Professional America and various other national publications.


Fairview is a hard money lender specializing in private money loans / non-bank real estate loans in Georgia, Colorado, Illinois, and Florida. They are recognized in the industry as the leader in hard money lending with no upfront fees or any other games. Learn more about Hard Money Lending through our free Hard Money Guide.  To get started on a loan all they need is their simple one page application (no upfront fees or other games).