Tesla’s Autopilot Exonerated in a Tangle of Confusion and Unpredictability

A Puzzling Victory for Tesla in California Court

In a whirlwind of events, a California state court jury has decided in favor of Tesla, concluding that the company’s Autopilot feature operated safely during a crash. This marks the first trial centered around a collision involving the partially automated driving software, potentially impacting Tesla’s future as it continues to develop and test its Autopilot and the more advanced “Full Self-Driving (FSD)” system. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emphasized the importance of these technologies to the company’s future success.

The Baffling Plaintiff’s Allegations

Justine Hsu, a Los Angeles resident, brought a lawsuit against Tesla in 2020, claiming her Model S veered into a curb while using Autopilot, causing the airbag to deploy with such force that it resulted in severe injury. Hsu sought more than $3 million in damages, asserting defects in the Autopilot and airbag design. Tesla, however, refuted the allegations, stating in a court document that Hsu misused Autopilot on city streets, contrary to the user manual’s guidance.

A Surprising Verdict and Emotional Aftermath

In an unexpected turn of events, the jury determined that the airbag functioned safely and that Tesla did not intentionally withhold information from Hsu. Consequently, the court awarded Hsu no damages, leaving her in tears outside the courtroom. One of Hsu’s attorneys expressed disappointment in the outcome, while a Tesla attorney declined to comment.

A Tumultuous History and an Uncertain Future

Since the introduction of Tesla’s Autopilot feature in 2015, its first fatal accident in the United States occurred in 2016. However, that case never went to trial. The Hsu trial, which has flown under the radar of other media outlets, is considered a test case for Tesla as it braces for a series of additional trials this year involving its semi-automated driving system.

Though the Hsu verdict does not have legal bearing on other cases, experts speculate that it will serve as a bellwether, helping Tesla and plaintiffs’ lawyers refine their tactics. A heated debate continues to intensify over who should be held accountable for accidents that occur while a vehicle is in driver-assisted Autopilot mode: the human driver, the machine, or both? Tesla maintains that its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features do not render the cars fully autonomous and that human drivers must be “prepared to take over at any moment.”

Currently, the US Justice Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating Tesla’s claims about self-driving capabilities and the safety of its technology.