Of Frightened Horses and Autonomous Vehicles: Tort Law and its Assimilation of Innovations

31 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2012 Last revised: 20 Jun 2012

Date Written: February 20, 2012


This symposium contribution considers five recurring themes in the application of tort law to new technologies. First, the initial batch of cases presented to courts may be atypical of later lawsuits that implicate the innovation, yet relate rules with surprising persistence. Second, these cases may be identified, and resolved, by reference to analogies that rely on similarities in form, and which do not wear well over time. Third, it may be difficult to isolate the unreasonable risks generated by an innovation from the benefits it is perceived to offer. Fourth, potential claims by early adopters of the technology may be more difficult to identify and recover upon than those that arise later, once the technology develops a mainstream audience. Fifth, and finally, uncertainty among potential plaintiffs (and their counsel) regarding the existence of a cause of action and the likelihood of recovery may beget a dearth of claims that involve an innovation for a significant period of time after its initial appearance. In introducing and explaining these themes, this article considers the initial application of tort law to technologies such as automobiles, airplanes, radio and television, and Tasers.

Keywords: tort, torts, tort law, automobiles, airplanes, Tasers, autonomous vehicles, innovation, technology

Suggested Citation

Graham, Kyle, Of Frightened Horses and Autonomous Vehicles: Tort Law and its Assimilation of Innovations (February 20, 2012). Santa Clara Law Review, Forthcoming, Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008507, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2008507

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