Tesla has seemed to be in constant legal peril over the last couple of years, as several high-profile crashes involving its semi-autonomous driving functions have led to investigations and lawsuits. Even so, the automaker was victorious in one of its first trials, which ended earlier this week.
The trial, which ended on October 31, was for allegations that its Autopilot driver assist tech caused a fatal crash. Despite its name and the misleading title of Tesla’s other assistance system, Full Self-Driving, none of the automaker’s technologies make its vehicles self-driving. The names came under scrutiny in the trial, with the prosecution asking a Tesla engineer if he felt the automaker created them to give the impression that vehicles were truly autonomous. He gave a “no” answer, but the U.S. Department of Justice has an open criminal probe focused on the topic, so we’ll probably hear more about that soon.
This lawsuit ended with the jury deciding that the driver was ultimately liable and that the Tesla did not have a manufacturing defect, but the issues they were asked to sort through were confusing and convoluted. Though some suits focus on how Autopilot is designed and its potential for abuse, the jury in this latest case only had to evaluate whether a defect impacted the vehicle’s steering system.
Tesla was pleased with the result, saying that its vehicles make the roads safer. The decision also illustrates an interesting view by the jury that the driver is ultimately responsible, even when the vehicle is doing most of the work. The question of liability is significant and is one of the biggest threats to autonomous vehicles. No automaker is going to jump at the opportunity to be sued for millions if someone abuses an autonomous vehicle, so it will be interesting to see how the rest of Tesla’s cases play out.
[Image: TierneyMJ via Shutterstock]
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