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Business News/ Auto News / Tesla settles high-profile ‘Autopilot' lawsuit following death of Apple engineer
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Tesla settles high-profile ‘Autopilot' lawsuit following death of Apple engineer

Tesla settles high-profile trial over fatal crash involving Autopilot system just before proceedings start. Terms undisclosed. Legal challenges contradict Elon Musk's safety claims. Experts see settlement as significant, hinting at Tesla's choice over court decision uncertainty.

Autopilot is available on all new Teslas and is designed to help with driving tasks such as steering. (Representational image)Premium
Autopilot is available on all new Teslas and is designed to help with driving tasks such as steering. (Representational image)

In a last-minute turn of events, Tesla Inc. has settled a high-profile trial regarding a fatal crash involving its Autopilot system, just as proceedings were set to commence. The settlement terms remain undisclosed, as revealed by court documents made public on Monday in San Jose, California.

The case centered around the tragic death of Walter Huang, a 38-year-old Apple engineer, who lost his life in 2018 when his Tesla Model X veered off the road and collided with a barrier at a speed of approximately 71 miles per hour. Investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that Huang may have been distracted by a video game on his phone, alongside highlighting "limitations" within Tesla's Autopilot system.

This settlement comes after Tesla previously emerged victorious in two similar trials in California, with juries attributing the accidents, one fatal and one non-fatal, to driver error rather than faults in Tesla's technology. However, such legal challenges contradict Elon Musk's assertions that Tesla vehicles are among the safest on the road.

Experts like Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor and specialist in automated driving, see this settlement as a notable development. He remarked that while it's not uncommon for cases to be resolved before trial, it is surprising in this instance, indicating that Tesla may have chosen settlement over the uncertainty of a court decision.

The trial, had it proceeded, would have involved testimony from numerous current and former Tesla engineers. This settlement also coincides with Musk's pledge to reveal Tesla's robotaxi in August, highlighting the company's ongoing focus on AI and autonomous driving.

Tesla has faced growing regulatory scrutiny over the safety of its Autopilot system and the Full Self-Driving software it promotes. The company's website describes Autopilot as an advanced driver assistance system, emphasizing the need for active driver supervision.

Aside from their claims against Tesla, the family of Walter Huang also alleged negligence on the part of California's transportation department for failing to repair the barrier damaged in a previous crash. These claims against the highway department remain pending as per the court's docket.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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Published: 09 Apr 2024, 10:43 AM IST
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