Technology advances help usher in a new era of auto safety, says area attorney

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

The challenges confronting the auto industry are paramount to Tom Branigan, managing partner at the Bloomfield Hills office of Bowman and Brooke, a product liability law firm with a global reach.

As legal counsel for several of the major auto manufacturers’ product liability cases, Branigan believes the new technologies that fuel today’s vehicles are helping to usher in a new age of safer and more exciting cars.

“I am extremely optimistic about the auto industry. It has done and is doing good things about safety,” Branigan said.

Innovative approaches to increasingly sophisticated safety advances, like pre-collision technology, a software program that will sense an imminent collision and stop the vehicle before impact are certain to make drivers more secure, Branigan noted.

“Pre-collision technology will greatly reduce the loss of life,” Branigan said. “This is a new world because so many decisions are now being made by computers.”

Moreover, Bran­i­gan predicts that such changes will not detrimentally affect the driver’s involvement.

“The work being done by traditional car companies are related to levels of autonomy that don’t take away the driving experience,” Branigan said.

But one thing sure to change the landscape for drivers is the driverless vehicle, Branigan noted.

When he was a passenger in a Google driverless car, Branigan said he felt “reasonably safe.” 

“It was fascinating,” Branigan added. “A switch is flipped and there we were driving down the 101 at 65 miles an hour.”

The introduction of vehicles like the Google driverless car raises a fresh round of questions for the auto industry.

“Auto manufacturers are answering questions like at what point in time should the car revert to manual and who is responsible for switching the controls,” Branigan said.

Yet, Branigan believes that within the next 10-15 years driverless vehicles will be widely accepted.

“While some of the more congested areas of the country may be quicker to accept the driverless cars, the technology is not that far away,” Branigan said.

“Cars are safer today than they have ever been, but as long as there are products that have risks there will be issues,” Branigan said. “The new cars are visually stunning and loaded with safety content. The other features like info-tainment options are mind blowing.”

Branigan said not only is he is confident that Bowman and Brooke will keep pace with the evolving auto industry, but he expects the firm to stay one step ahead of emerging industry trends as it represents clients across the country and in Canada.

“Our firm has evolved as issues have evolved,” Branigan said. “Remember when we were talking about seatbelts and dashboard redesign? Now there are regulations that address that. Today we have more complex issues.”

To better address the many multifaceted concerns facing Bowman and Brooke’s clients, the firm recently expanded its reach when the Florida-based Seipp, Flick & Hosley (SPH) LLP, along with lawyers Wendy Lumish and Robert Rudock, joined the firm.

“This merger has given us the opportunity to service clients in other states, like Florida, the most litigious state in the country,” Branigan said. “We eschew growth for the sake of growth, but what makes sense for the client is what makes sense for us. And this made sense.”

Branigan is frank when he talks about the task ahead for product liability attorneys.

“For automotive product liability and any other product liability cases that involve a product with an embedded system or electronic control modules that rely on source code, the challenge will be presenting evidence about those highly complex and technical systems in a way that is clear and compelling to lay people who have no knowledge or experience with those systems,” Branigan said.

“Aside from the technical challenges, the increasingly high cost of litigation and trials is another real challenge going forward for all parties in litigation,” Branigan said.

“The constitutional right to a jury trial is not worth much if the cost of a jury trial makes exercise of that right so expensive that parties find settlement of even frivolous cases the most attractive option for resolution,” Branigan said. “That approach just encourages more frivolous litigation.  We need to find a way to reduce the cost of trials because, in my view, jury trials are a necessary and fair way to have disputes resolved by collective wisdom of the community.”
 

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