In a landmark ruling, a state court jury in California has found Tesla not liable for a crash involving its Autopilot feature.
The verdict is likely to be a significant win for the electric car maker as it tests and expands its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) systems, which CEO Elon Musk sees as crucial to Tesla’s future.
However, both systems have faced legal and regulatory scrutiny.
The case involved Justine Hsu, a resident of Los Angeles, who sued Tesla in 2020 after her Tesla Model S swerved into a curb while on Autopilot.
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Hsu claimed that the accident was caused by defects in Autopilot’s design and the airbag system, and sought over $3 million in damages.
Tesla denied any responsibility for the 2019 crash, arguing that Hsu had used Autopilot on city streets, despite Tesla’s user manual warning against doing so.
During the trial, which lasted three weeks, the jury found Tesla not liable for the accident and awarded Hsu zero damages.
The jury also ruled that the airbag had not failed to perform safely and that Tesla had not intentionally failed to disclose facts to Hsu.
The outcome of the Hsu trial is likely to be closely watched by legal experts and other plaintiffs’ lawyers as a bellwether for other cases involving Autopilot and FSD.
The verdict is not legally binding in other cases, but it is expected to provide an indication of how future cases may be decided.
The trial comes at a critical time for Tesla as it faces a number of other legal challenges related to its semi-automated driving system.
Musk has claimed that Autopilot and FSD are safer than human drivers, but the systems have been the subject of investigations by the US Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
One of the key questions in Autopilot cases is who is responsible for an accident while the car is in driver-assistant mode – the human driver, the machine, or both?
Hsu alleged that the Tesla vehicle hit the curb so suddenly that she had no time to avoid it, even though she had her hands on the steering wheel and was alert.
In a related development, it was recently reported that a 2016 video used by Tesla to promote its self-driving technology was staged, according to testimony by a senior engineer.
The video showed capabilities such as stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light that the system did not actually have.
The details about the video were revealed during the deposition of a Tesla executive in another case.
Tesla has long maintained that its Autopilot and FSD systems are not fully autonomous and that human drivers must be ready to take over at any time.
The company first introduced Autopilot in 2015, and the first fatal accident in the US involving the system was reported in 2016, although the case never went to trial.