Tesla faces wrongful death lawsuit over fatal crash on Autopilot with semi-truck

Tesla is facing a new wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a Model 3 driver who died in a crash with a semi-truck while his car was on Autopilot.

We reported on the accident when it first happened on March 1.

A Model 3 on Autopilot crashed into the side of a trailer of a truck crossing the highway in Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida.

The accident was reminiscent of the tragic death of 45-year-old Joshua Brown in a collision with a truck while using the Autopilot of his Tesla Model S in Florida in May 2016.

Neither Brown nor Autopilot managed to see the trailer of a truck crossing the highway, the car went underneath the trailer, and Autopilot drove a significant distance before coming to a stop.

It sparked a federal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system, and eventually, NHTSA closed its investigation without finding any defect or issuing any recall.

The latest accident, which resulted in the death of 50-year-old Jeremy Banner, has been under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The agency described the accident in their preliminary report:

As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes. According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path.

The Tesla struck the left side of the semi-trailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semi-trailer and continued south (figure 2). The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semi-trailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. The 45-year-old male driver of the combination vehicle was uninjured.

Based on their preliminary findings, the NTSB said that they could determine that Autopilot was turned on just seconds before the crash.

Today, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla over the accident. The Boca Raton Tribune reported:

The family’s attorney from the law firm of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath states that the crash was the result of a defective autopilot system.

We contacted Tesla about the lawsuit, and we will update if they have a comment.

Electrek’s Take

I can’t really blame the family for filing the lawsuit. What happened is tragic, and you can’t expect them to have the most rational reaction to such a tragedy.

However, I don’t think we can really blame Autopilot for it based on what we know so far.

Tesla’s data showed that “from less than eight seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.”

But if Tesla is “not detecting” the hands on the wheel, it doesn’t mean that the driver didn’t have his hands on the wheel.

For people who have used Autopilot before, it’s clear that Tesla is not good at detecting hands on the wheel. It can only detect torque being applied on the wheel.

Therefore, the driver could have been holding the steering wheel, but that still doesn’t mean that the accident is Autopilot’s fault.

It’s the responsibility of the driver to always pay attention and be ready to intervene. You can’t expect Autopilot to stop all possible crashes.

That said, it’s the second similar accident, and Tesla should take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, whether it’s on the customer-education side or the Autopilot side.

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