Tesla wins Bellwether lawsuit over Autopilot car crash

LOS ANGELES, April 21 (Reuters) – A jury in a California state court on Friday awarded Tesla Inc a landslide victory, finding that the electric vehicle maker’s Autopilot feature does not failed in what appeared to be the first accident-related lawsuit involving the partially automated driving software.

Tesla has been testing and rolling out its Autopilot and more advanced “Full Self-Driving (FSD)” system, which Chief Executive Elon Musk has touted as crucial to his company’s future, but which has come under fire. regulatory and legal review.

Los Angeles resident Justine Hsu filed a lawsuit in 2020, claiming her Tesla Model S swerved into a curb while on autopilot, and an airbag was deployed “if violently that he fractured the plaintiff’s jaw, knocked out her teeth and caused nerve damage to her face”.

She alleged flaws in the autopilot and airbag design, and sought more than $3 million in damages.

Tesla denied responsibility for the accident and said in a court filing that Hsu used Autopilot on city streets, despite a user manual warning against doing so.

In Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, the jury awarded no damages to Hsu. He also found that the airbag did not fail to operate safely and that Tesla did not intentionally fail to disclose the facts.

After the verdict, jurors told Reuters that Tesla had clearly warned that the partially automated driving software was not a self-driving system and that driver distraction was to blame. Tesla stock gained 1.3% to close at $165.08 on Friday.

Hsu broke down in tears outside the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict. One of his lawyers, Donald Slavik, expressed disappointment with the result. Tesla attorney Michael Carey declined to comment.

Ed Walters, who teaches a course on autonomous vehicles at Georgetown Law, called the verdict a “huge victory” for Tesla.

“This case should be a wake-up call for Tesla owners that they can’t rely on Autopilot too much, and they really need to be ready to take control and Tesla is not an autonomous driving system,” did he declare.


Tesla calls its driver assistance systems Autopilot or Full Self-Driving, but says the features don’t make the cars self-driving and drivers need to be “ready to take over at a moment’s notice.” The company introduced Autopilot in 2015 and the first fatal accident in the United States was reported in 2016. This case never went to trial.

The Hsu trial took place in Los Angeles Superior Court over three weeks, with testimony from three Tesla engineers. The company has prepared for a series of other trials related to the semi-automatic driving system, which Musk says is safer than human drivers.

The main question in autopilot cases has been who is responsible for an accident while a car is in driver assistant autopilot mode – a human driver, the machine, or both?

“When fatalities are involved and they are on highways, the perspectives of the jury may be different,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Although Tesla won this battle, they could end up losing the war,” he said, with people realizing that Tesla’s technology is “far from becoming fully self-sustaining” despite Musk’s repeated promises over the years. years.

The outcome of the lawsuit is not legally binding in other cases, but experts said they view it as an indicator to help Tesla and other plaintiffs’ attorneys refine their strategies.

Cassandra Burke Robertson, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law who has studied the liability of self-driving cars, said the early cases “give an indication of how later cases are likely to unfold.”

The US Department of Justice is investigating Tesla’s claims about self-driving capabilities and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the safety of the technology.

Reporting by Abhirup Roy in Los Angeles and Hyunjoo Jin and Dan Levine in San Francisco Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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