Tesla’s autopilot driving assistant system has come under question in a recent California trial that has officially begun. The proceedings began dramatically, with the lawyer for the Tesla crash victims stating,”A car company should never sell consumers experimental vehicles.”
What is the California trial against Tesla about?
Tesla is facing a landmark lawsuit in California alleging that its autopilot driver assistant system played a pivotal role in a fatal accident. The lawsuit, filed by the passengers of the Tesla Model 3 involved in the crash and the estate of the driver, Micah Lee, accuses Tesla of knowingly selling a defective vehicle equipped with a faulty autopilot system.
The plaintiffs contend that the autopilot system caused the car to veer off the highway at a speed of 65 mph, resulting in a collision with a palm tree and a subsequent fiery eruption. Court documents reveal the harrowing consequences of the 2019 crash, including Lee’s tragic death and severe injuries to his two passengers, one of whom was an eight-year-old boy left disemboweled.
The court proceedings
Jonathan Michaels, an attorney for the plaintiffs, emphasized in his opening statement that when Micah Lee purchased Tesla’s “full self-driving capability package” for his Model 3 in 2019, the system was in its “beta” stage, signifying it was not yet ready for public release. Michaels cited a sharp 43-degree turn made by the car’s steering wheel on a freeway, describing it as a manifestation of a “known issue” at Tesla.
Tesla, however, firmly denied these allegations. The company asserted that its autopilot system restricts the steering wheel’s angle at high speeds, allowing only minimal adjustments on highways, and defended the overall safety of the system. Furthermore, Tesla placed blame on the driver, suggesting intoxication as a contributing factor to the crash.
Notably, Tesla’s defense has contended that the case is not fundamentally about autopilot, instead attributing the incident to “classic human error.” They maintained that autopilot enhances road safety and that it’s the driver’s responsibility to exercise caution and remain attentive.
Tesla’s history with civil proceedings: Los Angeles trial
This isn’t the first time Tesla has faced legal challenges related to its autopilot technology. In 2019, Tesla was embroiled in a trial in Los Angeles following an incident in which a Model S swerved into a curb, causing injury to the driver. The driver, Walter Huang, filed a lawsuit against Tesla, alleging that the autopilot system was defective and caused the accident.
The trial began in October 2019 and lasted for two weeks where the issue hovered over whether Tesla adequately communicated the limitations of its autopilot system to the driver.
In the trial, Tesla’s defense stressed the importance of driver vigilance while using autopilot. They argued that the accident resulted from the driver’s distraction and excessive reliance on autopilot. Ultimately, the jury ruled in favor of Tesla, reinforcing the need for driver responsibility when using autopilot and affirming that Tesla’s technology is a driver assistance feature, not fully autonomous.
The Los Angeles verdict is an important example to consider while going forward with this case. It shows that juries are willing to hold drivers responsible for accidents that occur when they are using self-driving features. It also shows that self-driving car companies are not automatically liable for accidents that occur when their systems are engaged.
Some exceptions could be made for the current California trial as it carries substantial significance due to the tragic fatality involved. This marks it as a higher-stakes legal battle compared to previous Tesla-related cases. While Tesla successfully excluded certain public statements made by Elon Musk about autopilot, the plaintiffs’ attorneys maintain that Lee’s blood alcohol content was below the legal limit, a point they can argue in court. The outcome will be closely watched, as it not only impacts Tesla but also has wider implications for the ongoing debate surrounding autonomous driving technology.