Attorney Cristina Perez Hesano, who is representing the family, declined to comment on the settlement but she issued a short statement on the family’s behalf.
“Bellah Perez, PLLC, the daughter and the husband of the late Ms. Herzberg will have no further comments on this matter, as it has now been resolved,” she said, referring to the name of the Glendale, Ariz., law firm where she is a partner. Perez declined to discuss the terms of the settlement or whether it absolved Uber of questions of legal liability.
An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the case.
Herzberg was walking a bike across a street, outside the crosswalk, around 10 p.m. March 18, when she was struck by a Volvo XC90 that was operating in autonomous mode. It is believed to be the first fatality in any testing program involving autonomous vehicles.
The crashed raised questions over companies’ readiness to deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads, and who should be held responsible when such crashes take place. In the aftermath of the crash, Uber suspended testing of its autonomous vehicles in North America indefinitely, and Arizona and California rescinded permission for the company to test its vehicle on their roadways.
While Herzberg was outside of a marked crosswalk, video footage graphically illustrated how the autonomous vehicle and its backup driver failed to protect her as she entered the roadway. The backup driver, Rafaela Vasquez, 44, can be seen repeatedly looking away from the road just before the crash.
Questions of legal liability immediately arose. As the Post reported previously:
Matt Henshon, a Boston lawyer who has written and spoken widely on artificial intelligence and self-driving cars, said that while a civil suit would be fairly straightforward, the question of potential criminal liability is much more complicated.Could the human driver have intervened? Were developers negligent in their design and rollout of the software? Was a nonworking sensor missed by inspectors?“The analogy is autopilot, in the airline case, where you put it on autopilot but the pilot still remains legally responsible,” he said. “Would they have been able to do something?”He said it raised a key question: “Who had ultimate responsibility, the human driver or the car itself?” he asked. But even if the car was deemed responsible, mechanical and software-related questions would also come up.“What bug was in there?” he said. “Was it reasonable for somebody to miss the bug?”A civil case would be much more straightforward.“If I’m representing the decedent … I’m suing the city for allowing everyone to do it,” he said. “But Uber’s my main target.”
With the settlement, it appeared many of the substantive legal questions would not immediately be answered. At least not in court.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have dual investigations into the crash, and Tempe police continue to probe the crash.
Tempe police said Thursday that the investigation continues and, once complete, will be forwarded to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office for review. Police Det. Lily Duran said authorities do not have a timeline for the probe’s completion. However, she said, the civil settlementdoes not impact the police investigation.