Autopilot Tesla Crashes – Who’s liable in a Self-Driving Vehicle Accident?

Technology is ever changing and at times the advancement can be a good thing. However, with the Tesla self-driving vehicles the recent autopilot accidents have many questioning the soundness of the car. On May 7, Joshua Brown was killed when his Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer.

Preliminary reports state that Mr. Brown was driving his Model S with the acclaimed autopilot system. According to Tesla, “Autopilot allows Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control. Digital control of motors, brakes, and steering helps avoid collisions from the front and sides, and prevents the car from wandering off the road.” The issue in the May 7 crash is the fact that the system failed to live up to what the manufacturer guaranteed when the cameras did not recognize the tractor-trailer.

Similarly, on July 1, an owner of the Model X Tesla was involved in a crash in Pennsylvania when his vehicle veered into barricades and other lanes. The driver claimed he had his autopilot system on when he was driving, however, the manufacturer has reported that data revealed that he took his hands off the wheel which turned off the autopilot system.

In both cases the crashes will be dependent on data, witnesses, and reports to determine who is liable.  Products liability is an area of law that holds manufactures liable for damages sustained when the product deviates from what is advertised. In Louisiana the exclusive remedy against manufacturers for personal injury is the Louisiana Products Liability Act. A manufacturer is liable when the product contains a defect that makes it unreasonably dangerous. There are four elements that characterize unreasonably dangerous: construction or composition, design, inadequate warning, and breach of express warranty.

Normally in a motor vehicle accident the injured would sue the motorist at fault. In this instance the individual driving the tractor-trailer would be at fault because Mr. Brown had the right of way. According to preliminary reports, the motorist driving the tractor was making a left turn when Mr. Brown was going straight. While the trailer owner is liable other parties may also be responsible. In both crashes the manufacturer of the vehicle, Tesla, may also bear some liability if it is proven that the vehicle suffered from a defect.

While Louisiana case law has not faced the Tesla autopilot system, other automakers have been held liable for technology that deviated from what was advertised. In Daye v. Gen. Motors Corp., 97-1653 (La. 9/9/98), 720 So. 2d 654, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned the jury’s allocation of fault 75% to manufacturer and 25% to the driver. The Corvette owner claimed that the manufacturer negligently misrepresented capabilities of anti-lock braking system (ABS). While the jury sided with the driver, the Supreme Court found that the owner disregarded the manual when he drove the Corvette at access speed and then tried to apply the brakes.

Technology can be an asset to society, but in moderation. Society must consider the human aspect of driving and use common sense. Driving the speed limit, keeping a watchful eye, not following too closely, etc. can lessen the chance of property loss and injuries. However, if you’ve been hurt in an accident where a defect may have been the cause contact counsel as soon as possible. The skilled attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm have capability to help you with your case. For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333


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