There is “reasonable evidence” to conclude that Tesla and its executives, including CEO Elon Musk, knew its vehicles had defective Autopilot systems but still allowed the cars to be driven in areas that “unsafe for that technology,” a Florida judge found.
Last week’s ruling from Judge Reid Scott, of the Circuit Court for Palm Beach County, means the family of a man who died in a crash while his Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged can go to trial and seek punitive damages. from Tesla for willful misconduct and gross. negligence. Reuters first reported the news.
The hit to Tesla comes after the electric vehicle maker won two product liability lawsuits in California earlier this year over the safety of its Autopilot system. Autopilot is Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that can perform automated driving tasks such as navigating on and off highway ramps, cruise control, lane changes and automatic parking.
The Florida case is the result of a 2019 crash north of Miami. Owner Stephen Banner’s Model 3 drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler truck that veered off the road, clipping the roof of the Tesla and killing Banner. A trial scheduled for October has been delayed, and has not yet been rescheduled.
If the case goes to trial, it could reveal new information about the reams of data Tesla collects, information that is usually secret.
Tesla’s lawyers can rely on the precedent set in two previous cases this year, in which the automaker emerged victorious.
In April, Tesla scored a victory after a California jury found the automaker not to blame for a 2019 crash involving Autopilot. Plaintiff Justine Hsu sued Tesla in 2020 for fraud, negligence and breach of contract, but was awarded no damages.
A few weeks ago, a jury sided with Tesla over allegations that Autopilot led to the death of Tesla driver Micah Lee in 2019. The two plaintiffs, who survived the crash, alleged that Tesla knew that its product was defective and sought $400 million in damages. Tesla argued that the crash was the result of human error.
The case – No. 50-2019-CA-009962 – tried in the Circuit Court for Palm Beach County, Florida.