Many car buyers in California and around the country choose electric vehicles manufactured by Tesla because they offer technology that cannot be found anywhere else. One of the most popular and controversial Tesla features is the Autopilot system, which enables the company’s electric cars and SUVs to accelerate, brake and steer with no driver inputs. The feature is touted as being the most advanced semiautonomous automobile system currently available, and it has also been linked to a series of deadly crashes.
Many of these Autopilot accidents occur when Teslas with the system engaged strike stationary emergency vehicles at accident scenes. A product liability lawsuit filed by an Indiana man whose Tesla Model 3 slammed into the rear of a fire truck while the Autopilot system was engaged accuses the Austin-based electric car company of making unfounded claims and deceiving consumers. The man’s wife died in the December 2019 crash, and he suffered serious injuries. Tesla denies the allegations and points out that its owner’s manuals urge drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel at all times.
Tesla owners who ignore this advice can face criminal as well as civil sanctions when their vehicles cause injuries and deaths. A California man who was behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S that ran a red light and struck a Honda sedan while its Autopilot system was engaged has been charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter. The two occupants of the Honda were pronounced dead at the scene. Their families have filed lawsuits against Tesla. Since 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated at least 26 serious accidents involving Teslas equipped with Autopilot.
Product liability lawsuits are usually filed against manufacturers that make defective products, but they could also be brought against companies that make claims in their advertising that portray their products as being safer or more capable than they really are. When dozens of consumers suffer injury, loss or damage because of a dangerous product, they may choose to form a class and bring a single lawsuit instead of pursuing individual cases.