Lawsuits Challenge Elon Musk’s Claim of Driver Responsibility in Tesla Autopilot Crashes

Florida Tesla Crash (Florida Highway Patrol)
Florida Highway Patrol

As Elon Musk’s Tesla faces multiple lawsuits and a federal investigation, the company’s assertion that drivers are solely responsible for crashes involving its Autopilot technology is coming under intense scrutiny.

The Washington Post reports that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has staked the company’s future on autonomous driving, but a series of lawsuits and investigations are challenging the safety and marketing of the company’s Autopilot driver assistance technology. At least eight lawsuits headed to trial in the coming year involve serious or fatal crashes that occurred while drivers were allegedly relying on Autopilot. These complaints argue that Tesla exaggerated the capabilities of the feature, which controls steering, speed, and other actions typically left to the driver, creating a false sense of complacency that led to tragedy.

Elon Musk plotting

Elon Musk, billionaire and chief executive officer of Tesla, at the Viva Tech fair in Paris, France, on Friday, June 16, 2023. Musk predicted his Neuralink Corp. would carry out its first brain implant later this year. Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

Evidence emerging in these cases, including dash-cam footage obtained by the Post, reveals shocking details. Two previously unreported fatal crashes from 2022 are detailed in lawsuits. In Phoenix, Iwanda Mitchell, 49, was driving a Tesla when she struck a stalled Toyota Camry on the highway. Autopilot and the car’s other features allegedly failed to take evasive action, and Mitchell was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle when she got out of her car.

In Sumner County, Tennessee, Jose Roman Jaramillo Cortez was allegedly intoxicated and using Autopilot when he drove his Tesla Model 3 on the wrong side of the road for several minutes before crashing into a car driven by Christian Malone, 20, who died from the impact.

Tesla maintains that it is not liable for these crashes, stating that drivers are ultimately in control of the vehicle. The company points to user manuals and on-screen warnings that make it “extremely clear” that drivers must be fully in control while using Autopilot. Many of the upcoming court cases involve driver distraction or impairment, according to the company.

However, this claim is facing increased pressure from federal regulators and the courts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently launched a new review of Autopilot, signaling concern that a December recall failed to significantly improve misuse of the technology and that drivers are misled into thinking the “automation has greater capabilities than it does.” NHTSA revealed that a two-year investigation into Autopilot had identified 467 crashes linked to the technology, 13 of them fatal.

Tesla’s decision to settle a high-profile case involving the fatal crash of Apple engineer Walter Huang, along with a Florida judge’s ruling that Tesla had “knowledge” of flaws in its technology, are giving fresh momentum to cases once seen as long shots. The judge upheld a plaintiff’s request to seek punitive damages in a case concerning a fatal crash in Delray Beach, Florida, in 2019, stating that there is a “genuine” dispute over whether Tesla “created a foreseeable zone of risk that posed a general threat of harm to others.”

The outcomes of these lawsuits could have significant implications for Tesla, which has already seen its stock value plummet amid falling sales and increased competition. Critics argue that the company’s marketing of Autopilot, including the very name itself, invites drivers to place too much trust in the automation.

Tesla has faced a jury only once over the role Autopilot may have played in a fatal crash, prevailing in a case in Riverside, California, last year. However, the company appears to face headwinds in some other cases and has shown a fresh willingness to settle, despite Musk’s previous vow never to settle “an unjust case.”

Read more at the Washington Post here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.


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