By Malathi Nayak | Bloomberg
Tesla convinced a jury that its Autopilot technology wasn’t responsible for a crash that killed a driver in Menifee four years ago, vindicating the driver-assistance system that’s a core part of Elon Musk’s efforts to make his electric-car company stand out from rivals.
Jurors in state court in Riverside on Tuesday sided with Tesla in the first lawsuit blaming a fatality on Autopilot to go to trial.
The family of the deceased driver, Micah Lee, and two passengers who were seriously injured sought $400 million in damages for physical injury, mental anguish and loss of the driver’s life.
Tesla’s eight-year experiment with semi-autonomous driving is mired in controversy even as Musk has maintained that the technology makes his cars the safest ever produced.
The company faces federal probes into whether defects in Autopilot have contributed to at least 17 deaths since June 2021, as well as regulatory investigations and lawsuits over claims that it has over-hyped its progress toward hands-free driving. Several suits over fatal crashes are headed to trial in coming months in California and Florida.
The verdict came as Tesla shares are set to wipe out nearly one-fifth of their value in less than two weeks amid growing concerns that demand for electric cars is starting to weaken.
The trial that played out in Riverside for almost a month focused on Lee, whose Model 3 veered off the 215 freeway in 2019, slammed into a tree and burst into flames.
Lawyers representing the crash survivors argued that a manufacturing defect in Autopilot mode caused the car to sharply swerve off the road. Tesla contended Lee had been drinking alcohol before he got behind the wheel and that there was no evidence he had even activated Autopilot before the collision.
Lee’s blood-alcohol level on the night of the crash was 0.05%, and the police officer who investigated the accident concluded it was caused by Lee who was driving under the influence, Tesla’s attorney, Michael Carey, told jurors in late September. The state’s legal limit for most adults is 0.08%, but drivers can be arrested with a lower blood-alcohol level if their driving skills are found to be impaired.
Lindsay Molander, one of the injured passengers, told Carey that Lee consumed a drink and she had some wine while they were having dinner together at a restaurant in Downtown Disney in Anaheim earlier that evening.
The 12-member jury reached its verdict in its fourth day of deliberations. Company representatives and lawyers for Tesla and the plaintiffs didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The case is Molander v. Tesla Inc., RIC2002469, California Superior Court, Riverside County.
https://www.siliconvalley.com/2023/11/01/tesla-wins-jury-trial-over-fatal-autopilot-crash-in-riverside/ First Tesla Autopilot jury trial ends in loss for family of driver killed in California crash