Tesla settles lawsuit over fatal crash involving Autopilot

Tesla on Monday settled a lawsuit that blamed the automaker's driver-assist software for the 2018 death of a California man, averting a trial that would have focused attention on the company's technology several months before it planned to unveil a self-driving taxi.

The trial stemming from the death of Wei Lun Huang, an Apple software engineer known as Walter, was expected to begin Monday with jury selection. The case was one of the most high-profile ones involving Tesla's Autopilot software, attracting considerable public attention and spurring an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The terms of the settlement with Mr. Huang's children and other members of his family were not disclosed, and Tesla filed court documents seeking to prevent them from being made public.

Testimony in the trial would put Tesla's self-driving software under intense scrutiny, further fueling debate over whether the technology makes cars safer or exposes drivers and others to serious injury or death.

Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive, has said the company's self-driving software will generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. Investors have used his claims to justify the company's high stock market valuation. Tesla is worth more than any other automaker, even though its shares have plummeted in recent months.

Musk said on X last week that Tesla would introduce a self-driving taxi, Robotaxi, in August. If Tesla has indeed perfected a vehicle capable of carrying passengers without a driver – which many analysts doubt – the development will help answer criticism that the company has been slow to follow up on its Model 3 sedan and Model Y sport-utility vehicle with new products.

Mr. Huang died after his Tesla Model X, a luxury SUV, veered off a highway in Mountain View, California, and crashed into a concrete median barrier. In the lawsuit, Mr. Huang's family blamed defects in the autopilot, which it said lacked the technology needed to avoid a crash. The lawsuit also sought damages from California, claiming that the barrier was damaged and failed to absorb the impact of the car as it should.

Lawyers for Mr. Huang and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment Monday evening. In legal filings, Tesla said it had decided to “put an end to years of litigation.” The company had indicated in court documents that it intended to testify that Mr. Huang was playing a video game on his phone when the accident occurred. The family's lawyers denied this was the case.

Although Tesla calls this software Autopilot and a more advanced version Full Self-Driving, neither system makes a car fully autonomous. The systems can accelerate, brake, keep cars in lane and perform other functions to varying degrees, but drivers are required to stay engaged and be ready to intervene at any time.

In December, Tesla recalled more than two million vehicles for a software update under pressure from U.S. regulators who said the automaker had not done enough to ensure drivers remained attentive while using the systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the 2018 crash blamed both Tesla and Mr. Huang. The agency said Autopilot failed to keep the vehicle in its lane and that its collision-avoidance software failed to detect a highway barrier. The board also said Mr Huang had probably been distracted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *