Lee died from injuries sustained in the collision, while his fiancee and son were seriously injured.
Thursday’s verdict came after a month-long trial and several days of deliberations by the jury, which had to decide whether there was a manufacturing defect that caused the car to go off the road. If Tesla continues to prevail in these Autopilot-related cases, the company could continue to deploy the evolving technology with few legal consequences. or regulatory safeguards. Multiple verdicts against the company, however, could threaten Tesla’s reputation and financial viability.
“While we express our disappointment with the verdict, there is no denying that a national perspective is now focused on this pressing issue,” said Jonathan Michaels, the attorney for Lee’s estate. “Tesla, despite his stature, was pushed to his limits during the trial. The jury’s extended deliberations suggest that the verdict still leaves a shadow of uncertainty.”
During the trial, Michaels argued that the car’s technology malfunctioned, causing her to veer off the road and strike the palm tree. Court documents also allege that the company knew its assisted driving technology and enhanced safety features were defective when it sold the car, and that the company markets its Autopilot features in a way that puts customers to sleep. drivers into a false sense of complacency when using the software.
But Michael Carey, Tesla’s lawyer, argued that the driver is ultimately in control of the vehicle and must keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road when using the feature. Carey and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
This case is one of at least 10 ongoing lawsuits involving Tesla’s Autopilot, several of which are expected to go to court over the next year. Together, these cases could set precedent for whether software should be partly to blame if something goes wrong in an autopilot-guided vehicle — or whether the driver is solely responsible.
Tesla’s Autopilot has been linked to more than 700 crashes since 2019 and at least 19 deaths, according to a Washington Post analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. A recent Post investigation also found that the technology relies heavily on human intervention.
In a fatal accident in 2019 According to an investigation by The Post, a man driving on a road for which the technology was not designed ran under a semi-trailer and was killed instantly. Lawyers for the driver’s family say the technology failed multiple times, from when the vehicle failed to brake to when it failed to issue a warning about the tractor-trailer in the car’s path . Tesla says the driver was ultimately responsible for the car’s trajectory.
This case is expected to be heard before a jury in the coming months.