Tesla scores landmark Autopilot safety ruling as jurors set driver negligence precedent
Tesla has won a landmark case that may serve as a precedent for other Autopilot-related rulings in the future. The claimant - Justine Hsu from Los Angeles - was arguing that her Model S was on Autopilot when it suddenly veered and smashed into a curb. The defense also waned to pin the blame on Tesla's airbag which it claimed inflated "so violently it fractured Plaintiff's jaw, knocked out teeth, and caused nerve damage to her face.”
After examining the evidence, however, the jurors decided that it was the driver who was at fault during a crash that saw their Model S hit a curb and deploy an airbag that subsequently damaged their jaw and face. Justine Hsu's defense argued that the Tesla only gave a warning to put their hands on the wheel a split second before the crash, so the driver didn't have time to react.
The jury, however, deemed them liable for the lack of attention as Autopilot was used for city driving, contrary to the manual and the warnings at the time of the crash in 2020. As per juror Mitchell Vasseur, Tesla's driver-assist feature did all that was required of it:
Autopilot never confessed to be self pilot. It’s not a self-driving car. It's an auto assist and they were adamant about a driver needing to always be aware.
"It's your vehicle. There are audible warnings and visual warnings both for the driver, indicating that it is your responsibility," added another juror. Their opinion is important as it can serve as an indication how juries will react at other such cases against Tesla. This is not the first time that Autopilot has been vindicated, too, even in triple fatality cases.
During Tesla's Q1 earnings call this week, Elon Musk again touted the virtues of its driver-assist feature, saying that full autonomy could be reached by year's end. He's been teasing this for a good while now, though, all the while Tesla was recently forced to change the description of its self-driving option to entertain an NHTSA recall and emphasize that FSD will stay at Level 2 autonomy for the foreseeable future. While this defied the expectations of paying FSD customers who were primed to believe that higher levels are just around the corner, the change in legalese shields Tesla from guilty verdicts in lawsuits like the one by Justine Hsu.
It is a delicate balance, as Elon Musk also mentioned several times during the last earnings call with analysts and investor that Tesla could even sell its cars at cost and rely on recurring revenue from service subscriptions like the FSD outlays. Every Tesla vehicle with Hardware 3.0 and above would supposedly be able to enjoy true self-driving at some point, he added, even though it's rather unclear if federal regulations will allow lax driver supervision anytime soon.