Will The Tesla’s Autopilot Fatality Case Soon Reach a California Jury?

Tesla's Autopilot

Key Highlights

  • The first U.S. trial involving a fatality allegedly caused by Tesla’s Autopilot system may set a precedent for similar cases nationwide.
  • The lawsuit accuses Tesla of knowing that Autopilot and other safety systems were defective when it sold the car, a claim the company denies, arguing that punitive damages should not be awarded.

Closing arguments will soon begin in the first U.S. trial regarding allegations that Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistant feature led to a fatal accident. This case, taking place in a California jury/ state court, could set a precedent for similar lawsuits nationwide.

Testimony Reveals Hidden Information

During the trial, a Tesla employee testified about Autopilot features the company sought to keep hidden from the public. Despite the company’s efforts, the judge allowed this information to be presented in court.

The Accident in Question

The civil lawsuit alleges that the Autopilot system caused a Tesla Model 3 to veer off a highway at high speed, strike a palm tree, and burst into flames, resulting in the death of the vehicle’s owner, Micah Lee. His two passengers, one of whom was an 8-year-old boy, suffered serious injuries, including disembowelment.

Allegations Against Tesla

The lawsuit, filed by the passengers, accuses Tesla of selling a defective vehicle, knowing that Autopilot and other safety systems had issues.

Tesla’s Defense

Tesla has denied liability, arguing that Lee had consumed alcohol before driving the vehicle and that it was unclear whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the accident.

Full Self-Driving System Under Scrutiny

Tesla’s Autopilot and more advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) system have been the subject of regulatory and legal scrutiny. The company views these systems as essential to its future success, while regulators and some critics have raised concerns.

  • Latent Defects and Naming: Plaintiff lawyers highlighted testimony from Tesla engineer Eloy Rubio Blanco, who acknowledged that the company understood the car’s software could have latent defects. 
  • Rubio also faced questions about whether the company named its system “Full Self-Driving” to create a certain perception.

Closing arguments are scheduled for 10 a.m. Pacific time and the outcome of this case could have significant implications for similar lawsuits related to Tesla’s Autopilot and autonomous driving features.


1. What is the focus of the first U.S. trial involving Tesla’s Autopilot?

The trial centers on allegations that Autopilot contributed to a fatal car crash, and it could influence similar cases across the country.

2. What happened in the 2019 crash that led to the trial?

The crash occurred when a Tesla Model 3 veered off a highway, struck a palm tree, and burst into flames, resulting in a fatality and serious injuries.

3. What is the key accusation against Tesla in the lawsuit?

The lawsuit accuses Tesla of knowing that Autopilot and other safety systems were defective when it sold the vehicle.

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