California jury sides with Tesla in case over fatal crash

A California jury ruled Tuesday that a crash involving a Tesla vehicle that left one person dead and two seriously injured was not caused by a manufacturing defect in the company’s Autopilot system.

The decision marks a significant victory for Tesla, which is facing several similar lawsuits involving its driver assistance technology.

Lindsay Molander and her son, Parker Austin, sued Tesla in 2020 over the crash, alleging that the Autopilot system caused the car to swerve off the road without warning while traveling at about 65 mph. The car smashed into a palm tree and burst into flames, according to court documents.

Molander and Austin, who were passengers in the Tesla Model 3, were seriously injured in the June 2019 crash. The driver, Micah Lee, was killed.

Tesla argued at trial that the crash was the result of human error, noting that Lee had consumed several drinks beforehand, according to The New York Times. However, Lee’s blood alcohol content was reportedly not high enough for him to be considered intoxicated under state law.

The jury sided with Tesla 9-3. The electric car company’s court victory is the first involving the use of its Autopilot system in a fatal crash; it also won a case over a nonfatal crash earlier this year.

The Autopilot system and its more advanced counterparts, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability, have faced increased scrutiny by state and federal regulators in recent years in the wake of several crashes.

Despite the names of the features, Tesla notes on its website that the Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability systems do not make its vehicles “autonomous” and “are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”

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