Electric car maker Tesla closed higher on the US stock market on Tuesday after a victory in a lawsuit over a crash. This marks a major victory for the well-known automaker as the company faces several similar lawsuits across the country. It’s all about Tesla’s Autopilot.
Tesla managed to convince the jury that its Autopilot technology was not responsible for an accident that killed a Californian Tesla driver four years ago. The share started the day with a price loss, but ended up trading almost 2 percent higher. This is an important boost for Tesla, because the company wants to distinguish itself from rivals with Autopilot, among other things.
Tesla’s eight-year experiment with semi-autonomous driving has long been controversial, even though CEO Elon Musk claims the technology makes its cars the safest ever produced.
For example, federal investigations are ongoing into whether Autopilot defects have contributed to at least 17 deaths since June 2021. Regulators are also investigating claims that Tesla overhyped its advances in hands-free driving.
This lawsuit in California was filed by two passengers who survived a crash with a Tesla in 2019, in which the driver unfortunately did not survive. The two occupants, who themselves were seriously injured, accused Tesla of knowing that the car’s semi-autonomous steering function and other safety systems were defective at the time it sold the car.
Crash into palm tree
Prosecutors alleged that on that fateful day in 2019, the system caused driver Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly deviate from its lane on a highway east of Los Angeles. The American crashed his Model 3 into a palm tree at a speed of 105 km/h, after which the electric vehicle immediately caught fire. One of the passengers was 8 years old at the time of the tragedy. His abdomen was torn open in the crash.
“A car company should never sell experimental vehicles to customers,” their lawyer argued, among other things.
“No manufacturing defect”
Tesla denied liability and said the crash was caused by human error. For example, the automaker said that Lee had drunk alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Tesla said it was also unclear whether the autopilot function was enabled at the time of the crash.
After a fourth day of deliberations, the verdict was finally delivered and the twelve-member jury announced that they had determined that the vehicle in question had no manufacturing defect. The vote was 9-3.
In April, Tesla won an earlier lawsuit in Los Angeles, with the automaker mainly focusing on the strategy of clearly telling drivers that its technology still requires human supervision, despite controversial terms such as ‘autopilot’ and ‘full self-driving’. That lawsuit revolved around someone who had been injured. Tuesday marked the first trial in the US over allegations that the Autopilot feature led to a death.
Jonathan Michaels, an attorney for the plaintiffs, expressed disappointment with the verdict afterward. “The jury’s lengthy deliberations do suggest that the verdict still casts a shadow of uncertainty,” he said. Tesla said in a statement that its cars are well designed and make the roads safer. “The jury’s conclusion was the correct one,” the company said.
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