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Tesla Sued (Again) for Autopilot Fatality

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 05:  A sign is posted at a Tesla showroom on November 5, 2013 in Palo Alto, California. Tesla will report third quarter earnings today after the closing bell.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 07, 2019 12:09 PM

Like any car, Teslas have had their fair share of accidents, and fatalities. As of this writing, there have been four reported fatalities in accidents involving Tesla's Model S, Model X, and Model 3 automobiles, all in the last three years. (That's compared to an estimated 40,000 deaths in car crashes in 2018 alone.) Perhaps what's most striking about the deaths involved in Teslas, however, is that many of the victims were using the company's autopilot at the time of the accident -- a feature many believe will make driving safer.

Case in point was Jeremy Banner, who was killed when his Tesla slid under a turning semi-truck while travelling 68 miles per hour on a Florida highway. Banner's family is now suing the car manufacturer, claiming its Autopilot system failed and should have braked or swerved to avoid the truck.

Autopilot Accidents

According to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, Banner engaged the Autopilot system about 10 seconds before the crash and his hands weren’t detected on the steering wheel for eight seconds before the collision, which should have set off the car's automated warning system. The Banner family's attorneys claim Tesla falsely advertised its Autopilot system as self-driving technology that would "eliminate the risk of harm or injury to the vehicle operator caused by other vehicles or obstacles." The lawsuit also alleges that Banner "reasonably believed" his Model 3 was safer than a human-operated vehicle based on Tesla's marketing campaign.

"My family is devastated due to the untimely and tragic death of a loving husband and father," a statement from Banner's wife, Kim, said. "It is difficult to discuss and relive what happened to Jeremy at this time. Our family has faith in the legal system that justice will be done and those responsible for his death will be held accountable."

Defective (Self) Driver

Tesla has not responded to the lawsuit yet, but released the following statement following the crash in May: "Our data shows that, when used properly by an attentive driver who is prepared to take control at all times, drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those operating without assistance."

Auto manufacturers have a legal duty to ensure their cars and trucks are safe, and there are three main types of product liability claims that injured drivers and passengers can make:

  1. Design Defects: The design of the autopilot feature is flawed in a way that renders it unreasonably dangerous
  2. Manufacturing Defects: The vehicle is manufactured in a way that departs from the intended design, causing it to malfunction
  3. Warning Defects: The manufacturer failed to provide adequate instructions or warnings regarding the dangers present when using the autopilot feature

If you have questions about autopilot reliability -- or legal liability -- talk to an experienced car accident attorney for help.

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