Tesla Autopilot Lawsuit (March Update) – Forbes Advisor – Forbes

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Tesla has always aimed to do things differently than traditional car manufacturers. But being first is not without its problems. A series of lawsuits have been filed against the company due to its Autopilot features, specifically its Full Self-Driving (FSD) capabilities.

Several lawsuits, including a potential class action lawsuit, have been filed against Tesla. Some are product liability cases where people were injured or even killed, while others have been filed due to claims of misleading advertising. Here’s the latest on the Tesla Autopilot cases.

Tesla Autopilot Lawsuit Update

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Two kinds of lawsuits are being filed against Tesla concerning Autopilot. One type deals with claims that the company made misleading promises to purchasers who paid extra for this feature. The other type of lawsuit involves people who have been injured or killed while using Autopilot.

Mischaracterization Lawsuits

In September 2022, five plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against Tesla, alleging that Tesla had made “misleading and deceptive” statements about its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capabilities.

The suit focused specifically on whether Tesla made statements that incorrectly characterized the capabilities of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. The “injury” the plaintiffs received was the additional money they paid for these capabilities, which they argued did not work as promised.

Instead of responding directly to the claims made by the plaintiffs, Tesla argued that the plaintiffs were bound by an arbitration agreement signed when they purchased their cars online. This agreement states that any dispute lasting more than 60 days will be decided by an arbitrator, not a judge or jury.

On September 30, 2023, United States District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. ruled that the proposed class action lawsuit could not proceed. Of the five named plaintiffs, four had signed an arbitration clause with Tesla, and one’s claim was found to be outside the statute of limitations.

This ruling is a blow for potential class members, as the arbitration agreement is included in the required agreements for purchasers, with a 30-day opt-out clause. Unless purchasers look for the opt-out clause, they are likely bound by the arbitration agreement. Although there is a pathway for purchasers who opted out of the arbitration clause to file a class action lawsuit, this decision severely limits who can join.

Injury Suits

There have been a variety of lawsuits filed by people who were injured while using Autopilot.

In a verdict returned in April 2023, a jury found that Tesla was not responsible for a crash in 2019. That crash injured driver Justine Hsu. This was the first Tesla autopilot case to go to verdict, so it was considered an informal bellwether for similar cases.

In October 2023, another jury found that Tesla was not responsible for the 2019 death of driver Micah Lee, who was allegedly using Autopilot at the time of the crash.

A judge in Florida found in November 2023 that there was reasonable evidence that Elon Musk and other Tesla managers knew Autopilot was defective and that a case involving the fatal crash of Stephen Banner while using this feature could go to trial, and the plaintiff could seek punitive damages. The trial has not yet happened.

Several lawsuits are still working their way through the court system. Still, they are all individual cases and are not class actions or multidistrict litigation (MDL), when cases are grouped so one judge can make decisions that affect all cases together. It’s too early to make sweeping proclamations about the trends in the lawsuits that have been filed, but Tesla thus far has convinced two juries that they are not responsible for the death or injury of Tesla drivers.

Why Are Tesla Lawsuits Filed?

Tesla’s Autopilot system and Full Self-Driving capabilities have been the cause of many of the lawsuits filed so far. The plaintiffs in these assorted cases have made the following points:

  • Tesla’s FSD capabilities require the attention and intervention of the driver, despite their name.
  • Tesla advertised these capabilities to make consumers believe the cars did not require driver intervention.
  • Tesla created these advertisements even though it was aware of the limitations of FSD.
  • People have been injured or killed while using this feature due to Tesla’s negligence.

History of Tesla Autopilot Lawsuits

In 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed against Tesla, alleging that many drivers reported Autopilot to be “essentially useless and demonstrably dangerous.” Tesla settled the suit for $5 million, with individual class members receiving between $20 and $70.

Between July 2021 and May 2022, 392 accidents occurred while driver-assistance systems were used. Out of these, 273 involved Teslas.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began an investigation into Autopilot in August 2021 after several accidents—some fatal—were linked to the use of the feature. This led to Tesla recalling over two million cars in December 2023, including most of the vehicles manufactured in the U.S. since 2012.

Can I Still File a Tesla Autopilot Lawsuit?

Whether you can file a lawsuit depends on various factors, and whether your claim is within the statute of limitations is essential. Each state has laws that set deadlines for how long you have to file a claim after you have been injured. If you wait to file the case after the deadline has expired, you may be time-barred from filing.

You can file a claim relating to the mischaracterization of the FSD feature, but the path to victory is much narrower than it was before Judge Gilliam made his ruling. Any potential plaintiffs will need to consider whether Tesla’s arbitration clause binds them and whether their cases are likely to be within the statute of limitations, which ranges from one to six years, depending on the state.

If another class action lawsuit is filed, it would likely need to be made up of Tesla purchasers who opted out of the arbitration clause in writing within 30 days of signing the Tesla Order Agreement.

If you or a family member have been injured or killed while using the Autopilot feature, you can file a lawsuit for damages from the accident.

How to File a Tesla Autopilot Lawsuit

If you believe you have a case against Tesla, you need to move quickly. You’re working against the clock of the statute of limitations. Here are your next steps:

  1. Find any paperwork regarding your Tesla purchase. This may include physical paperwork, but much of it could be electronic. Check your email to see if you can find the exact terms you agreed to. If you cannot find this information, move on to the next step.
  2. Contact an attorney with experience in personal injury, particularly product liability. Some attorneys specialize in automobile liability cases. They may be a good fit for you. Make sure you find an attorney that you feel comfortable with. Most personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations.
  3. Sometimes, attorneys may turn down a case. If this happens, you may want to consult with a second attorney.
  4. Listen closely to what your attorney advises. Expect that if you bring a lawsuit, Tesla will have experienced attorneys arguing against your case. Following your attorney’s suggestions will give you the best chance of success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What sort of compensation can I expect from a lawsuit against Tesla?

It’s impossible to put a dollar amount on potential compensation right now. No lawsuits to date have resulted in a settlement or verdict involving the Autopilot feature. If you are successful in your case, you will be entitled to compensation for the damages you suffered.

What has Tesla’s strategy been in Autopilot cases so far?

The strategy so far has been to push any possible mischaracterization cases toward arbitration. Since most Tesla owners agreed to this when they purchased their cars, this is a clever (and legal) strategy. In Justine Hsu’s and Micah Lee’s cases, Tesla had argued that it was clear in its documentation that the driver must be attentive and alert even when Autopilot and Full Self-Driving modes were enabled.

Tesla has successfully defended itself in personal injury lawsuits brought to date.

Are Autopilot and Full Self-Driving options still offered on Tesla cars?

Tesla still offers Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability (although the Full Self-Driving option is still in beta). It’s crucial for potential purchasers to understand exactly what they are purchasing if they pay for these extra features.

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