A California jury ruled Tuesday that a crash that killed a Tesla owner and seriously injured two passengers was not the fault of the carmaker’s driver-assistance software.
The verdict is the first involving a fatal crash in which lawyers representing victims blamed Tesla’s Autopilot system. This technology allows cars to drive with some degree of autonomy but has been criticized as unreliable.
The jury’s decision in a state court in Riverside, California, could be an indicator of how jurors and judges will rule in several other similar cases pending across the country. It could also affect consumers’ perception of the quality of Tesla’s vehicles, which account for half of electric car sales in the United States.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has convinced many Wall Street analysts and investors that self-driving software will be a lucrative source of profit for the company. Tesla charges up to $199 per month for its most advanced driver-assistance system, Full Self-Driving.
Mr Musk has often been accused of exaggerating the capabilities of the software and making overly optimistic predictions about when it will be able to drive a car from one place to another without human intervention. Despite the names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, the company’s software requires drivers to be engaged and ready to assume full control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice.
The California lawsuit was filed by Lindsay Molander and her son, Parker Austin. In June 2019, he was a passenger in a Tesla Model 3 car driven by Micah Lee, who died after the car suddenly veered off the highway, struck a palm tree and burst into flames. Ms. Molander and her son were seriously injured.
He blamed a malfunction of the car’s driver-assistance software for the accident. During closing arguments in the trial, Jonathan Michaels, who is representing Ms. Molander and her son, cited internal Tesla documents in which he said the company was aware of a glitch in the software that caused the car to shut down. Could turn suddenly.
Tesla’s lawyers argued that human error was to blame. Michael Carey, an attorney representing Tesla, told jurors during closing arguments in the trial that the software was not capable of causing the car to turn as suddenly as it did in the crash.
Mr Carey blamed Mr Lee, who had several drinks with Ms Molander at a restaurant and shopping district near Disneyland in Anaheim, California. According to tests conducted several hours after the accident, Mr. Lee had alcohol in his blood, but not enough to be considered intoxicated under California law.
“When someone crashes after drinking, we don’t accept their excuses,” Mr Carey told jurors.
“This product is working really well,” Mr Carey said. “Autopilot is helping people and making the world safer for us all.”