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Tesla Prepares for First Trial Involving Autopilot-Related Fatality

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In the months of September and October, Tesla will start two trials that could change how people view its Autopilot system. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has frequently asserted that the company’s self-driving ambitions are nearly ready for everyday use. However, these trials may significantly alter the narrative Tesla uses to describe these goals.

Tesla’s self-driving project’s success, according to Elon Musk, holds the key to the company’s financial future. He has predicted time and time again that Tesla will develop true self-driving capabilities, but this has yet to be proven.

Tesla is currently participating in two separate trials, according to a media report. The first one, which is scheduled for the middle of September, centers around a civil complaint that claims Autopilot caused Micah Lee’s Model 3 to unexpectedly swerve off a highway at 65 mph, collide with a palm tree, and catch fire. In the unfortunate 2019 incident, Lee died and two other passengers suffered life-threatening injuries.

Both the estate of Lee and the passengers filed a lawsuit against Tesla. They charge Tesla with promoting Autopilot while knowing the vehicle’s driver assistance system and other safety features were deficient. For its part, Tesla disputes liability for the collision and asserts that Lee had consumed alcohol prior to operating the vehicle. Tesla also emphasized that it’s uncertain if Autopilot was engaged at the time of the collision.

The second case, scheduled for the beginning of October, concerns a fatal incident related to Stephen Banner, whose Model 3 collided with a trailer that had strayed onto the road. Banner lost his life as a result of the tragic event, which culminated with the trailer ripping off the Tesla’s roof. In the lawsuit brought by Banner’s spouse, Autopilot is accused of failing to perform any evasive maneuvers—like braking or steering—to prevent the collision.

Tesla maintains that driver error is to blame for this fatality as well, similar to the Lee case. Since there aren’t any fully autonomous vehicles on the road as of yet, Tesla maintains that drivers must always remain alert and keep their hands on the wheel when Autopilot is engaged.

The outcomes of these two cases may set a standard for other complaints involving Autopilot, according to Matthew Wansley, a former general counsel for nuTonomy and an associate professor of law at Cardozo School of Law. Wansley said that if Tesla is successful in winning these legal battles, it might result in more agreeable settlements in similar cases.

Conversely, Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, made note that failures in these cases might have an impact on the ongoing narrative about Tesla’s self-driving endeavor. He asserted that the public’s perception of Tesla’s self-driving efforts in the future could be significantly impacted by a significant legal defeat for Tesla, particularly if it resulted in significant damages.

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