[TF UPDATE]: Lawsuit Trial Begins Involving Tesla Autopilot Crash That Killed Apple Employee

Sophia Rodriguez
Mr. Huang's Model X after the fatal crash. Credit: NTSB

UPDATE — 09 JUN: Tesla is settling the Autopilot wrongful death suit, Huang v. Tesla. This avoids a court trial. The settlement terms with the Huang family remain undisclosed.

The case of a fatal Tesla crash involving Apple engineer, Walter Huang, has resurfaced in a California court. Huang’s death in 2018 raised questions about Tesla’s Autopilot system and its safety. The fatal crash lead to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Huang’s family against the electric vehicle giant.

What’s Happening & Why This Matters

On March 23, 2018, Walter Huang lost his life when his Tesla Model X, driving on the model’s Autopilot feature, crashed into a concrete divider on US Highway 101 at 70 mph. The lawsuit centers on the claim that Huang trusted the car’s driving system which Tesla CEO Elon Musk frequently promoted as safe. However, despite prior incidents where Huang’s car veered towards a highway barrier, no substantial measures were taken to rectify the issue. Furthermore, it was revealed that Huang might not have been paying attention at the time of the crash, as he was playing a game on his phone.

Autopilot overview and features. credit: tesla/youtube

Tesla has faced scrutiny for its Autopilot system before, with critics and previous suppliers questioning the safety of its technology. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized Tesla for misleading marketing and a lax approach to safety. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Tesla failed to equip the Model X with adequate crash avoidance and automatic emergency braking systems. Sadly, these technologies were available at the time.

The lawsuit also implicates the state of California for not maintaining proper highway safety. The lawsuit points out an un-repaired crash attenuator that could have mitigated the impact of Huang’s crash. Tesla’s defense hinges on the argument that Huang’s misuse of the Autopilot system by playing a game on his phone was the sole cause of the accident.

TF Summary: What’s Next

The trial will be closely watched as any outcomes could influence public and regulatory perspectives on automated driving technologies and their safety. With Tesla facing both this lawsuit and an Autopilot recall, the outcome may affect how, any and all, automated driving systems are marketed, regulated, and developed. The case is an important reminder that driver attentiveness is paramount even when advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) are engaged.

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By Sophia Rodriguez “TF Eco-Tech”
Sophia Rodriguez is the eco-tech enthusiast of the group. With her academic background in Environmental Science, coupled with a career pivot into sustainable technology, Sophia has dedicated her life to advocating for and reviewing green tech solutions. She is passionate about how technology can be leveraged to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly world and often speaks at conferences and panels on this topic.
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