Tesla sued by family of man killed in Autopilot-related crash

Tesla is being sued by the family of Wei “Walter” Huang, a software engineer who died when his Model X with Autopilot engaged crashed into a highway safety barrier in March 2018.

In the complaint, the family claims that Huang’s Model X lacked safety features, such as an automatic emergency braking system. Such features are available on much less expensive vehicles from other carmakers as well as on more recent Model Xs, Huang’s family said. The Model X does come with automatic emergency braking, according to the owner’s manual.

According to Bloomberg:

The family also alleges that Tesla knew, or should have known, “that the Tesla Model X was likely to cause injury to its occupants by leaving travel lanes and striking fixed objects when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.” The carmaker should have issued a recall or provided a warning “in light of the risk of harm,” the family said in the complaint.

Huang died because “Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers,” B. Mark Fong, a lawyer for the family, said in a statement to Bloomberg. “The Huang family wants to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other drivers using Tesla vehicles or any semi-autonomous vehicles.”

Huang was traveling south on US Highway 101 on March 23rd, 2018, when his Model X P100D smashed into the safety barrier section of a divider that separates the carpool lane from the off-ramp to the left. The front end of his SUV was ripped apart, the vehicle caught fire, and two other cars crashed into the rear end. Huang was removed from the vehicle by rescuers and brought to Stanford Hospital where he died from injuries sustained in the crash.

In June, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report that attributed the crash to a navigation mistake by Autopilot. Tesla has been removed from the NTSB’s investigation into a fatal Autopilot accident that happened in March, the agency announced today. The NTSB says it took the action because Tesla had released “investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by” the agency.

Tesla introduced its Navigate on Autopilot feature, which guides the vehicle from on-ramp to off-ramp, in October 2018.

A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment on the suit, and instead pointed to the company’s prior statement on the deadly crash. In that statement, the company said that a damaged safety barrier, called a crash attenuator, contributed to the severity of the crash. Tesla also said that Huang had “about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view” of the concrete divider with the crushed safety barrier before his vehicle smashed into it.

The suit comes a week after Tesla CEO Elon Musk hosted an “Autonomy Day” for investors to tout his company’s plans to launch a fleet of autonomous robotaxis in 2020.


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