Francesco Paolo Patti Explains Where Self Driving Cars Are Leading Us

Francesco Paolo Patti Explains Where Self Driving Cars Are Leading Us


In March 2018, the news about the first fatal accident involving a self-driving car rapidly spread around the world. It caught the attention of Francesco Paolo Patti, a scholar who was studying the issue for a conference on the impact of digital technology on law. Today, Francesco Paolo Patti is Associate Professor at Bocconi’s Department of Legal Studies, where he is researching, among other things, a model for liability in the future world of driverless cars. «Private Law will play an important part in such an important issue», he says.
When Francesco Paolo Patti graduated in 2010, the challenges faced by self-driving cars were not considered as important as they are today. His passion for the German legal system brought him to Münster ‘s Westfählische Wilhelms-Universität,where he attained an LL.M. «It was during the PhD in Economy and Business Law in Rome that I finally decided to pursue an academic career», he recalls.
The doctoral thesis was his first step towards the in-depth study of Contract Law. Professor Patti is especially interested in penalty clauses. «In the European law, a party can not take too much advantage over another. The judge has therefore the power to reduce the agreed sum if it is considered manifestly excessive. In the Anglo-American law the contracting parties’ intent is more relevant».
After his Ph.D. studies, Prof. Patti had teaching duties at the European University Institute in Florence and at the University Roma Tre. He was a scholarship holder at the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Hamburg. In the meanwhile, he started a new research strand on Comparative Succession Law. He was particularly keen to investigate the freedom to disinherit children. «This kind of freedom is closely linked to the importance given to family in the legal system. In Italy, except in very rare cases, a child cannot be disinherited. In the United States and England, the law recognizes the freedom of individuals to dispose of their assets by will after death in whatever manner they wish».
He more recently researched the circulation of autonomous vehicles. «The change over the next twenty or thirty years will lead to a radical innovation in the rules», he says. He predicts that the civil liability in the event of an accident will no longer be attributed to the vehicle owners, but to the autonomous vehicle manufacturers. «This is a huge change that exposes manufacturers to greater risks and can therefore lead them to slow down research in this domain».
The potential benefits of the self-driving car revolution are pretty evident: the number of accidents, which today are mainly due to human errors, will be drastically reduced; people will carry out other activities during transportation; elderly and weaker people will be able to move around more freely. «On the other hand, there will be an algorithm that will make decisions for us. In extreme cases, it will determine which person should die. This is a scary change. The law must not hinder it. It must provide a method to determine responsibility».
Francesco Paolo Patti came to Bocconi in November 2018 as an Associate professor. He was given a hint of what was about to come in 2017 when he taught Private Law in English in Milan. «I immediately loved Bocconi’s dynamic and international environment», he says.
When he is neither teaching, nor researching, he cheers for the Lazio football club and practices sports. During the high school and university years, he was a competitive rower and won four bronze medals at the Italian championships. «It was a pretty intense effort. You had to train three to four hours a day. I chose to study. Now I enjoy running. It gives me the chance to overcome my limitations. I firmly believe that sports play an important role in both life and study: they teach you discipline».
Find out more
Francesco Paolo Patti, La determinazione convenzionale del danno, Jovene, 2015, pp. XXVII–492.
Francesco Paolo Patti, The New English Law on Penalty Clauses: An Italian Perspective, in European Review of Private Law (2017), pp. 227–240.
Francesca Barolini, Francesco Paolo Patti, The Freedom to Disinherit Children, in Zeitschrift für Europäisches Privatrecht, 2018, pp. 428–445.
Francesco Paolo Patti, The European Road to Autonomous Vehicles, forthcoming in Fordham International Law Journal 43 (2019), available on SSRN.

by Claudio Todesco


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