Personal Injury Lawyers Jonesboro, Arkansas

Cyber-Physical Systems, Embedded Systems, and the Risk of Accidents

How a personal injury lawyer can help prove liability

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) or embedded computer systems are all around us and are quickly becoming a significant part of our daily lives. In short, cyber-physical systems are computers with the ability to measure and affect the physical world. These systems include the hardware and software that control or assist a dedicated function, such as steering, braking, or transmission of machines. Machines incorporating cyber-physical or embedded systems frequently include modern vehicles, tractors, or heavy equipment.

CPS is used in transportation, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and infrastructure. These systems offer a lot in terms of efficiency and productivity. But they also have unique challenges, and even a minor problem can result in an accident that leaves people injured. Victims may have legal recourse through the civil justice system, and an experienced personal injury attorney can help navigate the process of recovering compensation.

What are the risks of cyber-physical systems?

The use of CPS on the road, in the field, or at work sites will continue to grow, as will the risks they pose to the safety of people around them.

Self-driving cars and trucks

Computer-assisted vehicles, commonly referred to as self-driving or autonomous vehicles, utilize a combination of sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate roads without human input. These vehicles are designed to reduce human error, which is a leading cause of accidents. However, they introduce new types of risks, including:

  • Software malfunctions: Software glitches or failures can lead to unexpected vehicle behavior. If the car’s AI misinterprets road conditions or fails to react adequately to obstacles, it can cause accidents.
  • Sensor limitations: Sensors might be impeded by adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain, fog, or snow, which can obscure their readings and lead to improper responses.
  • Cybersecurity threats: Autonomous vehicles are susceptible to hacking, where malicious entities could take control of vehicle operations, leading to potentially dangerous situations.
  • Mixed traffic challenges: Currently, autonomous vehicles share roads with human-driven cars, creating unpredictable scenarios. The difference in decision-making processes between humans and AI systems can result in misunderstandings and collisions.
  • Regulatory and ethical issues: The absence of comprehensive legal frameworks governing autonomous driving can complicate liability and insurance claims in the event of an accident.

Automated tractors and farm equipment

In agriculture, automation is used in tractors and other farming machinery to perform tasks like planting, harvesting, and irrigation more efficiently. GPS-guided tractors, for instance, can operate with remarkable precision. Despite their benefits, automated farm equipment also poses risks, such as:

  • Operator overreliance: Farm managers might become too reliant on automation, potentially overlooking necessary manual checks and maintenance, which can lead to equipment failure.
  • Interaction with manual equipment: Automated equipment might not interact safely with conventional tools and machinery, leading to accidents.
  • Loss of control: If the automatic system fails, it may be difficult for the operator to regain manual control quickly enough to prevent an accident.
  • Training and familiarity: The effectiveness of automated systems depends on the user’s understanding and ability to operate them. Inadequate training can lead to errors in setting up or responding to the machinery’s operations.

Industrial machines

In industrial settings, computer-assisted machines are used for tasks that require high precision, such as assembly, packing, and processing. While automation improves efficiency and safety by reducing human interaction with dangerous machinery, it introduces new risks, including:

  • Complexity of operation: Automated machines are complex and require specific knowledge and skills to operate safely. Workers inadequately trained on these new systems may misuse the equipment or fail to take necessary precautions.
  • Mechanical failures: Like any machine, automated equipment can suffer from wear and tear. However, detecting failures in automated systems might be less intuitive, delaying repairs and increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Unintended machine behaviors: Programming errors or unanticipated machine responses to certain inputs can result in actions that might endanger workers, especially if safety mechanisms fail.
  • Maintenance challenges: Automated machines require regular maintenance by skilled technicians. Poor maintenance can lead to unexpected malfunctions and hazards.

Who can be held liable in a CPS accident?

Liability in accidents involving self-driving cars, trucks, or computer-assisted operation of tractors and machines can be complex and may involve multiple parties. Determining who is at fault typically depends on the circumstances of the accident and the specific elements of technology involved. Potential parties that a personal injury lawyer might be able to hold liable for an accident include:

  • Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles or equipment: If a defect in the vehicle’s software or hardware contributed to the accident, the manufacturer could be liable under product liability laws. This includes errors in the algorithm that govern the vehicle’s decision-making process or faults in the physical components like sensors or cameras.
  • Software developers: If a software malfunction caused the accident, the developers or the company providing the software could be held responsible. This is particularly relevant where a bug or glitch in the system leads to a failure to execute the correct commands.
  • Operators or owners: In cases where a human operator is still involved, such as in semi-autonomous vehicles or when manual override is an option, the human operator could also be held liable if their negligence or errors contributed to the accident. For fully autonomous systems, the owner of the vehicle or machinery might be held responsible if they fail to perform necessary updates or maintenance.
  • Maintenance providers: If improper maintenance is a factor, the service provider responsible for the vehicle's upkeep or equipment may be liable. This could be due to negligence in properly inspecting, repairing or maintaining the vehicle’s systems.
  • Third-party contractors: In some cases, third parties, such as contractors who have programmed or equipped the vehicle for specific tasks, may be liable if their modifications contribute to a malfunction.

Because autonomous and semi-autonomous technology is relatively new and constantly evolving, legal standards and regulations are still being developed. Such technology often involves reading and interpreting large amounts of data to understand the cause of an accident.

How a lawyer can help if you’ve been injured

If you've been hurt in an accident involving a cyber-physical system, a lawyer can:

  • Collect and analyze evidence to determine how and why the cyber-physical system failed.
  • Determine all parties potentially liable for the accident, including manufacturers, software developers, service providers, or operators.
  • Work with cyber-physical system experts, engineers, and accident reconstruction specialists to provide insights into the technical aspects of the case.
  • Manage all legal documentation and filings necessary for pursuing a claim.
  • Fight for full compensation for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other relevant damages.
  • Communicate and negotiate with insurance companies to seek a fair settlement.
  • If necessary, fight for you in court, presenting a strong case supported by technical evidence and expert testimony.

You may not be sure what to do if you are injured. You may not even be sure if you have a case. That’s why it’s important to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

McDaniel Law Firm is here to help

At  McDaniel Law Firm, PLC in Jonesboro, Arkansas, we are experienced litigators who understand how to investigate and pursue those responsible when cyber-physical or embedded technology failures occur or are suspected. We know how difficult life can get for you and your family when you’ve been seriously hurt. You may have been severely injured or a loved one may have died. Income is lost and bills are adding up. The pain, suffering, grief, and stress can be overwhelming. The manufacturer and insurance company deny and minimize what happened and want to pay you as little as possible. We work tirelessly to hold them accountable and to protect your family’s security.

Learn more about how we can help. Our firm has decades of knowledge and experience. We can review the details of your accident, discuss your legal options for recovering financial compensation, and answer any questions you have. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, “Cyber-Physical Systems and the Risk of Accidents.”

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