Tesla sued in wrongful death lawsuit that alleges Autopilot caused crash



The family of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who died after his Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged crashed into a highway median, is suing Tesla. The State of California Department of Transportation is also named in the lawsuit.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, alleges that mistakes by Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system caused the crash that killed Huang on March 23, 2018. Huang, who was 38, died when his 2017 Tesla Model X struck a highway barrier on Highway 101 in Mountain View, Calif..

The lawsuit alleges that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system misread lane lines, failed to detect that the media, failed to brake and accelerated to the median.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the suit.

“Mrs. Huang lost her husband, and two children lost their father because Tesla is beta testing its own Autopilot software on live drivers,” B. Mark  Fong, a partner in law firm Minami Tamaki said in a statement.

Other allegations against Tesla include product liability, defective product design, failure to warn, breach of warranty, negligent and intentional misrepresentation and false advertising. California DOT is also named in the lawsuit because the concrete highway median that Huang’s vehicle struck was missing its crash attenuator guard, according to the filing. Caltrans failed to replace the guard after a previous crash there, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit aims to “ensure the technology behind semi-autonomous cars is safe before it’s released on the streets, and its risks are not withheld or misrepresented to the general public,” said Doris Cheng, a partner at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, who is also representing the household.

In the days after the crash, Tesla released two blog posts and ended up scuffling with the National Transportation Safety Board, which had sent investigators to the crash scene.

Tesla’s March 30 blog article acknowledged Autopilot had been engaged at the time of the crash. Tesla said the driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warnings earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds before the collision.

Those comments prompted a response from the NTSB, which indicated it was “unhappy with the release of information by Tesla. ” The NTSB requires companies that are a party to an agency accident investigation to not release details about the incident to the public without consent.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk would soon chime in via Twitter to express his own disappointment and criticism of the NTSB.

Three weeks after the crash, Tesla issued a statement placing the blame on Huang and denying ethical or legal liability for the crash.

“According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot wasn’t perfect and, especially, he told them it wasn’t reliable in that specific place, yet he engaged Autopilot at the location. The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang wasn’t paying attention to the road, despite the car providing a number of warnings to do so. ”

The association between NTSB and Tesla would disintegrate further after the announcement. Tesla said it withdrew from its celebration agreement with the NTSB. Within a day, NTSB claimed that it had eliminated Tesla as a party.

A preliminary report in the NTSB didn’t make any decisions of what caused the crash. However, it did find that the vehicle accelerated from 62 miles to 70.8 mph in the last 3 seconds before impact and moved left as it approached the paved gore area dividing the major travel lane of 101 and Highway 85 exit ramp.

The report also found that and 55 seconds before impact, the Tesla supplied one alert and two alarms to the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel. The alarms were created more than 15 minutes prior to the crash.

Huang’s hands were detected before impact on the steering wheel only 34 seconds during the minute.  No pre-crash braking or evasive steering movement was detected, the report said.

The case is Sz Hua Huang et al v. Tesla Inc., The State of California, no. 19CV346663.

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