Tesla is bracing up for two successive trials over lawsuits alleging culpability of the Autopilot system in lethal crashes, as per a new report. Both lawsuits allege that Autopilot failures led to driver deaths.
The first trial is scheduled for mid-September in a California state court, reported Reuters. The plaintiffs claim that Autopilot caused owner Micah Lee’s Tesla Model 3 to swerve off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour, leading to a collision with a palm tree, which engulfed the EV in flames, killing Lee and injuring two passengers.
The passengers and Lee’s estate accused the Elon Musk-led brand of being cognisant of the defects in the Autopilot. As per the court filings, Tesla argues that Lee was driving under the influence of alcohol, and it’s not clear if Autopilot was even active when the crash occurred in 2019.
The second trial will be held at the start of October in a Florida state court and is concerning another 2019 crash north of Miami, where owner Stephen Banner passed away after his Model 3 drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler rig, dislodging the roof. Banner’s wife alleged that the Autopilot made no attempts to prevent the tragic accident.
Depositions from Tesla executives and internal documents obtained by the prosecutors reveal that Musk and his engineers were aware of the problems, but did not fix them, as per the report.
The Austin-headquartered brand has denied both allegations and maintains that Autopilot is safe when monitored by humans. Tesla's Autopilot and Full-Self Driving (FSD) softwares have been certified as Level 2 by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), meaning they’re only driver assistance features that do not make the EVs autonomous.
Critics blame Tesla for false advertising, and reason that the terms Autopilot and FSD are misleading.
Verdicts in these trials could impact how customers perceive Autopilot. For years, Musk has championed the idea that self-driving cars are the future and has promised several times that Tesla vehicles would be capable of FSD, only to miss the target for multiple years consecutively.
Despite the legal hurdles, Tesla is racing ahead with the development of FSD version 12 software, which is claimed to enable autonomous driving sans human intervention. Musk raved about how “mind-blowing” FSD V12 was after a recent demonstration of the technology in California.