Firm-Wide blog

Was Tesla Liable?

By Burg Simpson
May 4, 2017
3 min read

When a product harms a consumer, the victim or surviving family has the right to file a product liability or a wrongful death lawsuit. These legal actions determine if the manufacturer of the product was negligent in designing, manufacturing or testing the product’s safety prior to release.

When Tesla finally allowed the self-driving car onto the market — after a reported 200 million miles of test driving — there was only one fatal accident on record. But it has since come to light that there was a second fatality, this one in China.

A 23-year-old man borrowed his father’s car and engaged the autopilot setting while driving on the highway. The car hit a street-sweeping truck on the side of the road head-on, and at highway speed, without applying brakes or attempting to avoid a collision.

In the wake of the fatality, Tesla clarified and reinforced the language it uses to describe the autopilot feature on its website, including:

  • Drivers are instructed to keep hands on the wheel at all times;
  • Drivers should be aware that the manual refers to autopilot, not self-driving;
  • Drivers should monitor both the car and the road at all times;
  • It is the driver’s responsibility to avoid accidents, even when autopilot is engaged.

Tesla includes a warning to drivers that the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control feature is not always able to distinguish stationary objects in the driver’s lane or slow or stop for an obstacle or pedestrian. The manual stresses the importance of driver participation in the navigation of the vehicle at all times and warns of the possibility of serious injury or death should the driver abdicate responsibility for navigation.

From a legal standpoint, this case begs the question as to whether Tesla was negligent or strictly liable in designing an autopilot system that is not always able to avoid a collision, or if the driver, duly warned by the owner’s manual not to abdicate responsibility, is partially or wholly liable for the accident.

The family of the accident victim has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla’s Chinese division. The court will decide if either the driver or the car manufacturer was negligent, or if both contributed to the circumstances that led to this tragic accident.

If you have been injured by a defective product, or know someone who has, speak to an experienced Denver product liability attorney about your case before it is too late. You might be eligible to collect compensation for your injuries. Call your attorney at law Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, P. C., at 303-792-5595 or contact us by filling out a Free Case Evaluation form online today.

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