A pivotal court case involving Tesla‘s Autopilot system has concluded with a California jury exonerating the electric car maker from responsibility in a fatal 2019 crash. The decision, a significant one for Tesla, arose from allegations that the vehicle’s driver-assistance software was fundamentally flawed, leading to a deadly incident that claimed the life of Micah Lee and inflicted grave injuries upon two passengers.
The incident, which occurred on a highway near Los Angeles, ended with Lee’s Model 3 veering off the road and colliding with a palm tree. The plaintiffs sought $400 million in damages, claiming that Tesla’s Autopilot was in a beta phase, yet sold as fully self-driving, and was thus defective. The legal team representing Lee’s estate highlighted an “excessive steering command” issue, suggesting it was a known problem within Tesla.
However, Tesla’s defense refuted these claims, asserting that the system was not defective and that the crash was a result of human error, including evidence that Lee had consumed alcohol prior to driving. The jury sided with Tesla after deliberation, finding no defect in the Autopilot system.
This trial is the first of its kind to focus on Tesla’s Autopilot in a fatality and is expected to influence several upcoming cases. While Tesla has been under scrutiny over Autopilot’s role in accidents, the technology has also been linked to over 700 crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Tesla maintains that Autopilot requires an attentive driver ready to take control at any time, a stance reiterated in their user support pages.
The outcome of this case delivers a message to both consumers and the industry about the challenges of integrating autonomous technology into the mainstream. It underscores the ongoing debate over the safety of driver-assistance systems and the responsibility of drivers to remain engaged while using such technology. With Tesla set to face more trials, the dialogue on the balance between innovation and safety in the automotive industry continues to evolve.