The first U.S. trial over allegations that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistant technology led to a death, will begin on September 28, and the outcome could influence similar lawsuits throughout the nation.
Micah Lee’s estate filed a civil lawsuit against Tesla, and the trial in that case has begun in California’s Riverside County Superior Court. The lawsuit centers on an incident where Micah Lee’s Tesla Model 3, off the road near Los Angeles, hit a palm tree and caught fire.
Unfortunately, Lee passed away, and his two passengers suffered severe injuries. At the time, one of his passengers was an eight-year-old disemboweled boy.
The passengers and Lee’s estate are alleging that an Autopilot flaw caused the collision, and the automaker knew there was an issue with its system- rendering the carmaker liable.
Tesla has denied responsibility, claiming that Lee had drank alcohol before driving. Additionally, according to the EV maker, it was unclear whether Autopilot was in use at the time of the collision.
Elon Musk has hailed the company’s innovative Full Self-Driving (FSD) system and Autopilot as essential to its future, but they have attracted regulatory and legal scrutiny.
Tesla claimed that, despite the name “Autopilot,” it informs drivers that its technology requires human supervision, and this defense helped the company win a bellwether trial in Los Angeles in April. Jurors told Reuters after the verdict that they thought Tesla notified drivers about its technology and that driver distraction was to blame for a 2019 Model S accident that resulted in the driver’s injuries.
However, the fact that people died increases the stakes in this week’s trial and other cases. In the lead-up to the trial, Tesla and plaintiff attorneys sparred over the types of evidence and defenses they may offer. For instance, Tesla succeeded in its quest to exclude some of Musk’s public comments on Autopilot. However, according to court documents, the crash victims’ counsel may contend that Lee’s blood alcohol level was within the permitted limit.
The Riverside County Superior Court trial is expected to go on for a few weeks.