Tesla Sued After Semi-Autonomous Driving System Fails in Fatal Crash

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Tesla Sued After Semi-Autonomous Driving System Fails in Fatal Crash

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Synopsis

  • Some of the worst-performing autopilot systems ranked by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are offered by high-end automakers.
  • Federal investigators have concluded that Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving system accelerated just before crashing on a California freeway, killing the man operating the vehicle.
  • The accident occurred in 2018, on U.S. Highway 101, when the faulted autopilot technology on a Tesla Model X allegedly turned the car left and straight into a concrete median.
  • The family of the man is now suing the automaker saying that it is using consumers to pilot vehicles and unsafe technologies.

Family Sues Tesla for Autopilot Navigation System Fail at Center of Fatal Crash 

Through a California state court complaint filed April 26, 2019, Tesla Inc. is being sued by the family of Walter Huang, the 38-year-old husband and father who died as the result of a highway crash allegedly caused by a fail in the Autopilot navigation system.

In the complaint, the family says the Palo Alto-based electric car maker sold the 2017 Model X as a “state-of-the-art” automobile but lacked basic safety features commonly found on much less expensive motor vehicles used by everyday consumers, such as an automatic emergency braking system. The family also made remarks through the complaint that the company knew, or should have known, “that the Tesla Model X was likely to cause injury to its occupants by leaving travel lanes and striking fixed objects when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner,” and that the “carmaker should have issued a recall or provided a warning “in light of the risk of harm.” The complaint also revealed sentiments that the company is “beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers.”

The State of California Department of Transportation was also listed as a defendant on the claim. It is believed the state did not repair a crash attenuator before the fatal Tesla incident.

Days after the crash, Tesla responded on its blog with, “Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – but it makes them much less likely to occur.”

Tesla Model X Accident Review by NHTSA Officials

Using data pulled from the Model X, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators released a report outlining the steps the vehicle made leading up to the fatal accident.

  • The driver set his 2017 Model X on Autopilot at 75 mph as he traveled south.
  • Fifteen minutes before the crash, the Model X gave two visible warnings and one audible warning for the man to place his hands on the wheel.
  • In the minute leading up to the crash, the vehicle’s event recorder showed that the driver had his hands on the wheel three separate times, for a total of 34 seconds, but didn’t touch the wheel for six seconds leading up to the crash.
  • The vehicle was following another car that was traveling 65 mph for several seconds before the accident, but four seconds before impact it was no longer following that car.
  • Three seconds before the crash, the Model X sped up from 62 to 70.8 mph before hitting the barrier at roughly 71 mph.
  • Investigators said that the Model X didn’t attempt to brake or steer clear of the crash.

This month, Tesla introduced new safety features that allows lane-keeping assist to operate without Autopilot engaged.

Questioning the Safety of Autonomous Vehicles and Accident Liability

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as several Michigan lawmakers, have called out autonomous carmakers like Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its lack of testing and research on the safety challenges presented through autonomous vehicle growth. Concerns over weak state regulations and accident liability for autonomous vehicles to share the roads with all motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians regularly makes headlines as the Great Lakes State with a historical foundation in auto making has shown great interest and investments in new car technologies.

  • In 2018, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative began work with the University of Michigan to allocate $700,000 to 10 projects aimed at bringing new autonomous technology to the motor vehicle market.
  • Michigan is already the home to a unique test track for autonomous vehicles financed with a $2 million sponsorship from Subaru of America in Ann Arbor. The $2 million is just part of the state’s involvement in more than $110 million worth of autonomous vehicle technology investments since 2017.
  • While Tesla does have a showroom in Metro Detroit, Michigan’s Secretary of State has denied the electric car maker’s application for dealership licenses because the company doesn’t employ traditional dealerships.

Michigan’s interests in self-driving vehicles and autonomous features like Tesla’s autopilot system raises several questions about the lack of standards set into place as these motor vehicles hit the streets today. Yes, they may be aimed to create a reduction in traffic accidents, but what happens if innovation trumps safety and regulations are lacking when an accident occurs – where will that liability shift to and what will the law be to support an injured or deceased victim? Will the fault stay with a driver or move to the car manufacturer or the author of the new technology?

We look forward to continuing this conversation as automated driving is well on its way to take control of our roadways in the future. Stay connected and share your thoughts with us.

We Hold Driver Safety to A Higher Standard Than Most 

The Law Offices of Lee Steinberg, P.C. was founded by nationally recognized attorney Lee Steinberg in 1973. Beginning with a small office in northwest Detroit, Lee has grown his practice into a prosperous and successful law firm with offices throughout the State of Michigan.

If you have been involved in a self-driving vehicle auto accident of any kind or in-vehicle technologies have failed you, protect your legal rights and contact Lee Free at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) today for a free consultation. We look forward to answering your questions and working hard for you.

Read: Pedestrian Death Raises New Questions About Autonomous Vehicle Regulations

 

About the Author:

Eric joined the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg, P.C to fight for injury victims throughout Michigan. He has been selected to Super Lawyers and is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40. A graduate of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, he devotes 100% of his practice to representing victims who have been injured by the negligence of others. He is on the Executive Board for the Michigan Association for Justice.

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