Tesla is once again feeling the scrutiny of the skeptical public and safety associations after a string of news stories hit headlines regarding the safety, or lack thereof, of their “Autopilot” system.
In Netherlands, a Tesla electric vehicle flew off the road and struck a tree, killing the driver. Although the crash is still being investigated, it would appear the self-driving feature had been disabled. The collision appears to have taken place while the car was traveling close to 100 miles per hour, which would be well above what the autonomous driving software would allow for the road conditions. (Fortune has an online article here regarding this story.)
In China, the investigation of a fatal Tesla crash that occurred in January has come to a close, potentially for Tesla’s favor. Dash-cam footage recovered from the scene of the crash reveals that the vehicle plowed into a slow-moving or stopped street cleaning without the brakes ever being applied. There is no indication, however, that Autopilot systems were engaged. The automaker insists that the wreck destroyed any usable data and so they could not investigate further. Chinese police officials have stated that the driver was at-fault for his own collision, and not Tesla, but the father is suing the company anyway. (Read more about this story by clicking here for a New York Times article.)
Lastly, in Texas, a man claims his Model S was in autonomous mode when it threw itself against the guardrail of a highway it had traveled successfully many times before. The man suffered some injuries but has fully recovered from the crash, which was in early August 2016. While he does not appear to have any intent to sue Tesla, he does warn that the Autopilot technology is not ready for widespread use. (You can view a CNBC article about this story here.)
What It All Means for Liability
Tesla and their self-driving vehicles are currently in the middle of a legal gray area. If a car accident involving an Autopilot car is to be handled like a simple negligence claim, then that would imply that Tesla will never be liable for crashes. If a collision caused by a less-than-perfect autonomous drive system is to be handled like an auto product liability case, then that would mean that liability never falls on the driver. Furthermore, if Tesla’s systems are found partially or totally responsible for a crash, which department at the company failed? The programmers, the mechanics, the cartographers, etc.?
At this point, it looks like a lawsuit involving Tesla is going to be rife with complexities, especially if the company continues to insist that their technology is safe, no matter how many crash stories arise. If you need help filing a claim after being hurt while using a Tesla “self-driving” vehicle, you should back your chances with the help of The Gilbert Law Group and our nationally-renowned auto defect lawyers. We are proud to say that we have been named as one of the “Best Law Firms in the United States” by U.S. News and World Report in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.