High-Stakes Trial Over Fatal Tesla Autopilot Incident Begins In California

Tesla’s legal hurdles concerning its Autopilot driver assistance system are far from over. A critical trial began yesterday over the death of one Micah Lee, allegedly caused due to a malfunctioning Autopilot system.

Lee’s estate brought a civil lawsuit against Tesla, and the case is being heard at California’s Riverside County Superior Court. Lee’s Tesla Model 3 allegedly veered off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour, collided with a palm tree, and engulfed into flames.

The crash killed Lee and severely injured his two passengers, Reuters reported. The plaintiffs are arguing that Tesla knowingly installed faulty Autopilot systems into its electric cars. In response, Tesla’s lawyers argued that the driver was intoxicated – although the blood alcohol content was under legally permissible levels.

“The case is not about Autopilot,” Michael Carey, a lawyer representing Tesla, told Reuters. “Autopilot makes a road safer. It is a good thing,” he added. “It is a classic human error that caused the crash.”

The Elon Musk-led brand has reiterated that Autopilot, in its current iteration, is a driver assistance system, and that users should remain attentive at all times. The system is designed to take the stress off driving, and not replace human drivers. At least not yet, as the development of the next-generation AI-powered neural-network-based self-driving software is underway in full swing.

Autopilot is also the subject of several ongoing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations, one of which is an incident involving a Model X ramming into parked emergency vehicles in Texas.

The Austin-headquartered brand’s legal troubles extend beyond Autopilot. Yesterday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Tesla – the second of its nature – for widespread racial abuse of black workers at one of its Fremont manufacturing plants, USA Today reported.

EEOC alleged that racism was “frequent,” occurring “too many times to count.” Many black workers were reportedly strong-armed into job transfers or were fired for raising objections, as per the report.

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