What You Need to Know About Automotive Software Failure and Car Accidents

What You Need to Know About Automotive Software Failure and Car Accidents
Calendar icon August 15, 2023

Over the years, improvements in cars’ built-in software systems have helped to improve the driving experience. However, software failure is a real driver threat and can lead to serious accidents. Depending on how and when automotive software failure happens, the driver of the vehicle can be at risk for traumatic injuries or even fatality. 

What You Need to Know About Automotive Software Failure and Car Accidents

How Does Automotive Software Work?

Software used in today’s automobiles is quite complex and sophisticated. However, with advances in technological capabilities, there also comes an increased chance of complications or failure.

Many newer cars (manufactured within the last decade or so) have more than 100 electronic control units (“ECUs”), which are required to run the necessary safety functions of the vehicle. In modern cars, the brakes, airbags, engines, and other important features generally need these software functions to work. 

Automotive software often contains firmware, an embedded microprocessor, circuitry, memory, and a network connection. Software installed in ECUs may be provided by a party in the automotive supply chain or created and coded by the manufacturer.

Assembly with ECUs requires testing the entire system to ensure all parts function perfectly. If an ECU malfunctions, it can effectively lead to an accident as a result of the failure in the vehicle’s electronic stability, braking, or forward collision avoidance systems. 

Accidents Caused By Automotive Software Failures

A collision could be unavoidable if an automobile’s software fails and the key vehicle systems cease to work. For example, a software malfunction could trigger a vehicle’s automatic braking system without warning, putting the passengers of the vehicle at risk of a rear-end crash or T-bone accident.

Automobile manufacturers may be legally responsible for these injuries, as they have represented that their vehicles are safe to own and drive. If the quality support for software in the vehicle—including cybersecurity, non-functional safety, and functional safety—ensures that brakes and other key systems work correctly, then an accident should not occur.

When manufacturers fail in this responsibility, they may be held liable for causing injuries sustained in a resultant collision.

How Do Manufacturers Handle Software Failures or Defects?

If the defect or failure is minor, the manufacturer might respond in one of several ways:

  • Ignore the defect, as it poses no real threat to the vehicle’s safety or performance. 
  • Upgrade the firmware when the vehicle is taken in for routine servicing.
  • Include the updated firmware in replaceable subassemblies.
  • Do over-the-air upgrades for compatible ECUs and models.
    •  If the manufacturers use this method, they may not be required to expose software defects or fixes to consumers or regulatory agencies.

If the software failure has serious safety implications, the manufacturer may be required to offer a recall. Any vehicle equipment manufacturer that determines a piece of equipment contains a safety defect or is not in compliance with federal safety standards must report its findings to the NHTSA.

Once a recall is issued by the manufacturer, owners of vehicles with the defect are notified to visit a dealership-certified mechanic to replace the defective piece of equipment. 

Can You Pursue Legal Action Against A Manufacturer For An Accident Caused By Software Failures?

When an automotive software failure causes an accident, the manufacturer may be liable for damages. However, certain criteria must be met for an injury victim to successfully file a claim against the manufacturer. 

Proving Liability

Software malfunctions that lead to an accident can typically be linked back to the manufacturer of the vehicle or the software. The manufacturer has a duty to ensure that the software is properly functioning, calibrated, and updated before a vehicle is sold to a customer. When a manufacturer fails to uphold that duty of care, it may be held liable.

Additionally, any mechanics or repair shops that perform updates or recall repairs on the software could be held liable for damages if they fail to update the software correctly. The owner of the vehicle should also be sure to frequently perform maintenance on the vehicle and ensure that the repairs are performed by a reputable and knowledgeable mechanic.

Statute Of Limitations

In New York State, the statute of limitations to file a claim for personal injuries is three years from the date of an automobile accident. If an injury victim fails to bring a claim forward within that time, the courts will likely find their claim time-barred, and they will not be able to collect damages for their injuries.

Contact An Experienced Auto Attorney For Assistance With Your Claim

If you or a loved one sustained injuries in a car accident due to a software malfunction, don’t wait to contact an experienced auto attorney. At Cellino Law, our attorneys will fight to ensure that you are properly compensated for your injuries.

Fighting an auto manufacturer’s insurance company without the assistance and resources of a law firm can be extremely difficult.  If your vehicle’s manufacturer is at fault for your accident, our team of well-respected attorneys will help prove any liability that falls on the manufacturer.

To schedule a free consultation with a legal team member, contact Cellino Law at 800-555-5555.



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