Oct 31 (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) on Tuesday won its first U.S. trial over allegations that its Autopilot feature led to death, a major victory for the automaker that faces several other similar lawsuits across the country. .
The jury’s ruling marks Tesla’s second big win this year, as a jury declined to find that its software was flawed. Tesla is testing and rolling out Autopilot and its most advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) system, which CEO Elon Musk has described as crucial to his company’s future but has been subject to regulatory and legal scrutiny.
The case, which ended Tuesday, in California state court, was brought by two passengers in a 2019 crash who accused the company of knowing the Autopilot system was defective when it sold the car. Tesla argued that human error caused the accident.
The 12-member jury announced that it found that the car had no manufacturing defect. The ruling came on the fourth day of deliberations, and the voting result was 9-3.
Tesla representatives and plaintiffs did not immediately comment on the ruling.
The civil lawsuit filed in Riverside County Superior Court alleged that the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly veer off an east Los Angeles freeway at 65 mph (105 kph), crash into a palm tree and catch fire. All within seconds.
The 2019 crash killed Lee and seriously injured his two passengers, including an 8-year-old boy who was disemboweled, court documents show. The trial included harrowing testimony about the passengers’ injuries, and prosecutors asked the jury for $400 million plus punitive damages.
Tesla denied responsibility, saying Lee had consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel. The electric car manufacturer also said it was unclear whether Autopilot was operating at the time of the accident.
The guidance issues in this case differ from those in other cases against Tesla, said Matthew Wansley, former general counsel of nuTonomy, an automated driving startup, and an associate professor at Cardozo School of Law.
In those lawsuits, plaintiffs allege that the Autopilot system was flawed in design, leading drivers to abuse the system. However, the jury in Riverside was only asked to evaluate whether a manufacturing defect affected the steering.
“If I were on the jury, I would find this puzzling,” Wansley said.
During the trial in Riverside, the plaintiffs’ attorney showed jurors a 2017 Tesla internal safety analysis identifying “improper steering command” as a defect, which included an “excessive” steering wheel angle.
A Tesla lawyer said the safety analysis did not identify the defect, but rather was intended to help the company address any problem that could theoretically arise with the car. The automaker then designed a system that prevented the autopilot from executing the turn that caused the accident.
Tesla won a previous trial in Los Angeles last April, with a strategy that it says tells drivers that its technology requires human monitoring, despite the “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” names.
That case involved an accident in which a Model S veered off a curb and hit its driver, and jurors told Reuters after the verdict that they believed Tesla had warned drivers about its system and that driver distraction was to blame.
(Reporting by Dan Levin and Hyunjoo Jin; Preparing by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang
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