Tesla wins suit over Autopilot car crash

LOS ANGELES A California state court jury on Friday handed Tesla Inc. a sweeping win, finding the electric vehicles maker’s Autopilot feature did not fail in what appeared to be the first trial related to a crash involving the partially automated driving software.

Tesla has been testing and rolling out an Autopilot and more advanced “Full Self-Driving” system, which CEO Elon Musk has touted as crucial to the company’s future but which has drawn regulatory and legal scrutiny.

Los Angeles resident Justine Hsu sued in 2020, saying her Tesla Model S swerved into a curb while on Autopilot, and an airbag was deployed “so violently it fractured Plaintiff’s jaw, knocked out teeth, and caused nerve damage to her face.”

She alleged defects in the design of Autopilot and the airbag, and sought more than $3 million in damages.

Tesla denied liability for the accident and said in a court filing that Hsu used Autopilot on city streets, despite a user manual warning against doing so.

In Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, the jury awarded Hsu zero damages. It also found that the airbag did not fail to perform safely, and that Tesla did not intentionally fail to disclose facts.

After the verdict, the jurors told Reuters that Tesla clearly warned that the partially automated driving software was not a self-piloted system, and that driver distraction was to blame. Tesla shares gained 1.3% to close at $165.08 on Friday.

Hsu broke down in tears outside the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict. One of her attorneys, Donald Slavik, expressed disappointment with the result. Tesla attorney Michael Carey declined to comment.

Ed Walters, who teaches a course on autonomous vehicles at Georgetown Law, called the verdict a “huge win” for Tesla.

“This case should be a wake-up call to Tesla owners: they can’t over-rely on Autopilot, and they really need to be ready to take control and Tesla is not a self-driving system,” he said.

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