HomeTechnologyTesla Autopilot is ready for its first test involving death.

Tesla Inc is set to defend itself in a lawsuit against allegations that a failure of its Autopilot driver assistant feature caused a death, in what will likely be a major test of Chief Executive Elon Musk’s claims about the technology.

Self-driving capability is central to Tesla’s financial future, according to Musk, whose reputation as an engineering leader is being challenged by plaintiffs in one of two lawsuits with allegations that he was personally responsible for the failed technology. Back leads the group. A Tesla victory could boost confidence and sales for the software, which costs up to $15,000 per vehicle.

Tesla is facing two tests one after the other, with more tests yet to come.

The first is a civil lawsuit due in mid-September in California state court that alleges the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly skid off a highway at 65 mph east of Los Angeles. veered off course and crashed into a palm tree. And within a few seconds it was engulfed in flames.

The 2019 crash, which had not previously been reported, killed Lee and seriously injured two of his passengers, including an 8-year-old boy who suffered a severed stomach. The lawsuit filed against Tesla by the passengers and Lee’s estate alleges Tesla knew when it sold the car that Autopilot and other safety systems were defective.

Musk ‘de facto leader’ of Autopilot team

The second lawsuit, set for early October in Florida state court, stems from a 2019 accident north of Miami where owner Stephen Banner’s Model 3 ran under the trailer of an 18-wheeler big rig truck Which had come on the road and was cut. Tesla’s Roof and the Killing Banner. According to the lawsuit filed by Banner’s wife, Autopilot failed to brake, steer or do anything else to avoid a collision.

Tesla denied liability for both crashes, blaming driver error and saying Autopilot is safe when supervised by humans. Tesla said in court documents that drivers should pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the steering wheel.

“There are no self-driving cars on the road today,” the company said.

The civil proceedings are likely to reveal new evidence about what Musk and other company executives knew about Autopilot’s capabilities — and any potential shortcomings. For example, Banner’s attorneys argue in pre-trial court that internal emails show Musk is the “de facto leader” of the Autopilot team.

Tesla and Musk did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters for this article, but Musk has made no secret of his involvement in self-driving software engineering, often testing Teslas equipped with “full self-driving” software. Tweeting about driving. , He has promised for years that Tesla would achieve self-driving capability only to miss his own targets.

Tesla won a bellwether trial in Los Angeles in April that said it tells drivers that its technology needs human supervision, despite the names “autopilot” and “full self-driving”. The case was about a crash where a Model S veered off the road and injured its driver, and jurors told Reuters after the verdict that they believed Tesla failed to inform drivers about its system. I had warned and the distraction of the driver was responsible for this.

The stakes are high for Tesla

The stakes are high for Tesla in the September and October trials, the first and next in a series related to Autopilot this year, as people have died.

“If Tesla wins a lot of these cases, I think they’re going to get more favorable settlements in other cases,” said Matthew Wansley, former general counsel and associate professor of law at Newtonomy, an automated driving startup. Said. Cardozo School of Law.

On the other hand, Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, said “a major loss for Tesla—especially one with a large damages award” “could dramatically shape the story going forward.”

In court filings, the company has argued that Lee had consumed alcohol prior to driving and it is unclear whether Autopilot was on at the time of the crash.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jonathan Michaels declined to comment on Tesla’s specific arguments, but said, “We are fully aware of Tesla’s false claims, including their shameful attempts to blame victims for their known faulty Autopilot system.” Are included.”

In the Florida case, Banner’s attorneys also filed a motion arguing that punitive damages were warranted. Lawyers have ousted several Tesla executives and obtained internal documents from the company that show Musk and engineers knew about the deficiencies, and did not fix them.

In a statement, former executive Christopher Moore testified that Autopilot has limitations, saying it “is not designed to detect every potential hazard or every potential obstacle or vehicle that could be on the road,” Reuters According to a transcript reviewed by.

In 2016, a few months after a fatal crash where a Tesla collided with a semi-trailer truck, Musk told reporters that the automaker was updating Autopilot with better radar sensors, which likely could have prevented the death. Was.

But Adam (Niklas) Gustafson, a Tesla Autopilot systems engineer who investigated both crashes in Florida, said that in the nearly three years between the 2016 crash and Banner’s crash, no changes were made to Autopilot’s system to account for cross-traffic. it was done. Court documents submitted by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Lawyers tried to pin the blame for the lack of change on Musk. According to the plaintiffs’ documents, “Elon Musk has acknowledged problems with the Tesla Autopilot system not working properly.” According to the documents, former Autopilot engineer Richard Baverstock, who was also fired, said that “almost everything” he did at Tesla was at the request of “Elon”.

Tesla filed an emergency petition with the court late Wednesday seeking to keep secret the transcripts of its employees’ testimony and other documents. Banner’s attorney, Lake “Trey” Little III, said he would oppose the motion.

“The best thing about our judicial system is that billion dollar corporations can only hide secrets for so long,” he wrote in a text message.

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