A significant win for Tesla, which currently is the subject of several lawsuits and federal investigations pertaining to driver assistance technology, came on October 31 when it emerged victorious in the first U.S. trial concerning allegations that its Autopilot feature caused a fatal accident.
With this verdict, Tesla achieved its second significant victory of the year, as juries refuse to conclude that the company’s software is flawed. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has portrayed the company’s more sophisticated Full Self-Driving (FSD) system, which is under regulatory and legal scrutiny, as critical to the company’s future.
Two passengers in a 2019 crash filed the lawsuit that ended Tuesday in a California state court. They claimed the company knew the car’s Autopilot was flawed when it sold it. However, the EV maker said the crash resulted from human error. As a result, the 12-person jury declared there was no manufacturing flaw in the car, and on the fourth day of the trial, the vote was 9-3 in favor of the verdict (Tesla).
In addition, according to court documents of the Riverdale, CA, case, Model 3 owner Micah Lee was killed in the 2019 crash, and two of his passengers, including an eight-year-old boy who was disemboweled, suffered severe injuries. The plaintiffs requested $400 million in punitive damages from the jury during the trial, which featured graphic testimony regarding the injuries suffered by the passengers. Tesla defended itself, claiming Lee drank alcohol before operating the car. The manufacturer of electric vehicles further contended that it was unclear if Autopilot was activated at the moment of the collision.
A plaintiff’s attorney presented jurors with an internal Tesla safety analysis from 2017 that identified “incorrect steering command” as a defect involving an “excessive” steering wheel angle during the Riverside trial.
Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation against Tesla for its self-driving car claims. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been looking into how well Autopilot works after discovering that Tesla vehicles have collided with stationary emergency vehicles in over a dozen crashes.