Can Tesla Face Defective Product Lawsuits?

The Brown Firm

The Brown Firm

In just a few short years, Tesla has revolutionized the automobile industry.

They've been a significant disruption in the traditional gasoline-powered industry, and are looking to make electric vehicles not just an option, but the norm heading into the future.

But their electric batteries aren't the only things that are revolutionizing the industry.

They are also known for their autopilot feature. That's right - your car can drive itself.

While it's not entirely autonomous at the moment, your car can handle some of the leg work while you're driving down the interstate. It can even park itself in your garage.

But, just like most technology, it isn't perfect. 

So what happens when the Tesla autopilot malfunctions and someone gets hurt?

In the article below, we will discuss a couple of situations where the Autopilot function did malfunction, and what we can expect heading into the future.

Cases Where The Tesla Autopilot Has Malfunctioned

A driver in Florida has filed a suit against Tesla after his autopilot feature allegedly failed.

That alleged failure caused his 2017 Tesla Model S to collide with a stalled vehicle while he was traveling 80 mph.

According to the complaint, which includes claims for strict liability and negligence, the autopilot system in Teslas cannot reliably detect stationary objects such as disabled cars or other roadway hazards.

This creates a high risk of collisions, injury, and death.

When the accident occurred, the driver was traveling on the Florida Turnpike in his Model S with the autopilot feature turned on. 

He alleged that, unknown to him, he was rapidly approaching a disabled vehicle that had stalled in his lane of travel. His autopilot system failed to detect it. 

He claims that suddenly, and without warning, his vehicle crashed into the disabled vehicle and he sustained severe, permanent injuries.

Tesla was also recently sued by the family of a man who died when Tesla's autopilot failed to avoid a truck that ran a red light.  

When a person isn't paying attention and runs a red light hitting you, you can sue him for negligence.  

You hire an attorney, together you make a claim against the other driver, and then the person's insurance company pays you the money you are owed. 

It's a relatively straight-forward process.

However, what we are beginning to see based on our examples above, are lawsuits against car manufacturers and GPS guidance systems.

These lawsuits will be for accidents caused not by the failure of a person to control their vehicle, but a failure of technology.

We are bound to see more and more cases like this as more and more people purchase Teslas and vehicles with similar autopilot systems.

A Brief History

The ability to sue automobile manufacturers like Tesla starts with a case from 1916 – Macpherson v. Buick.  

The Macpherson case allowed for the first time for individuals to sue manufacturers of goods for negligent design and production of manufactured goods.  

Before that case, you were not allowed to sue manufacturers of goods put into commerce because you had no privity of contract with the manufacturer.

Coming back to Tesla and the lawsuits we talked about earlier, we have now seen a handful of these lawsuits for manufacturing a defective product against Tesla.  

In a similar case, a driver had Tesla's autopilot engaged, and it, unfortunately, failed to take any evasive action when a large truck ran a stop sign. The victim was sadly killed in the accident.

Expect to see more and more of these cases as we move into the future.

The Future of Car Accident Cases

This will cause a significant shift in accident litigation.  

Imagine a situation where a driver has auto-pilot engaged, and it malfunctions, causing him to hit another vehicle. Normally the not-at-fault driver sues the at-fault driver for his damages.

In this autopilot era, though, you are going to have the at-fault driver and the other driver bringing claims against the vehicle manufacturer for making and selling a defective product.  

And that is guaranteed to happen because Tesla is better insured and has much deeper pockets than any individual. That means bigger payouts.

But, to prove a products liability case, you must show that

  • The product was defective (usually that involves experts) and maybe more importantly here
  • That the product was being used as intended.

Tesla can make several arguments like its auto-pilot system was not intended to be a set and forget system.  

The driver is supposed to be aware and able to take control of the vehicle at any time.  

The victims will argue that Tesla and its sales staff tout how safe and efficient the system is and tell you with a wink and a nod that you can turn on auto-pilot and take a nap.

We are undoubtedly entering a new era in car accident cases where we will be looking at not only the negligence of drivers but also the reliability of the technology behind the drivers.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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