Drivers are increasingly relying on in-vehicle technology to help them navigate, know when it’s safe to switch lanes, remain inside a lane and stop in time to avoid a rear-end collision. Yet the more advanced and commonplace this technology comes, the more questions are raised about liability when these systems fail or when drivers lean too heavily on them.
Recently, the family of a man killed in a horrific car accident involving a Tesla vehicle that was engaged in autopilot mode has indicated they are preparing to file a wrongful death lawsuit against manufacturer Tesla, who made the car the man was driving. Decedent is survived by his wife and two young children (ages 3 and 6). An early review of the crash by the family’s wrongful death lawyer has reportedly unearthed numerous complaints to Tesla regarding navigational errors that occurred when motorists had engaged the driver-assisted systems. The law firm handling the plaintiff’s case says it appears the autopilot feature of this model of vehicles is defective – and probably what caused the fatal crash in this case.
It is the suspicion of the firm’s crash investigators that the autopilot feature misread the lanes on the road and didn’t detect the concrete median, which meant the car’s automatic brakes weren’t engaged and the vehicle barreled right into the median. The system manufacturer has confirmed the sport utility vehicle’s autopilot feature was engaged when the crash happened and that the driver reportedly removed his hands from the wheel for a a total of six seconds before slamming into the barrier.
The man’s family says he knew – and had talked about the fact – that the vehicle’s autopilot feature was imperfect and that it didn’t reliable in identifying his exact location. However, on this day, he did engage it and, it seems, relied on it. The question will likely be whether the manufacturer appropriately warned of the system’s shortcomings or whether it was unreasonably dangerous as designed.
Tesla insists that it has no moral or legal liability for this crash because there is no “broken promise” made to consumers, or this driver specifically. The company told MarketWatch it does instruct drivers using the autopilot feature to keep their hands firmly on the wheel and to remain alert at all times. (However, as our car accident wrongful death lawyers would note, this seemingly contradicts the “autopilot” moniker, which insinuates a self-sufficient system.)
In addition to forthcoming legal action against the vehicle manufacturer, the family is reportedly also weighing a claim against the state’s transportation department on the grounds the highway median where he struck was missing something called an attenuator guard. It had been damaged and removed after a previous crash, and the state failed to replace it. In public statements, Tesla’s public relations department indicated the lack of that guard significantly exacerbated decedent’s injuries, turning what likely would have been an injurious crash into a fatal one.
The family’s attorney has said the makers of these kinds of vehicle technologies need to be put on notice that these features must be fully tested before they are released on the roads.
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Tesla shifts blame to crash victim as family hires lawyers, April 12, 2018, By Claudia Assis, MarketWatch
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