Written by Dan Levin and Hyunjoo Jin
(Reuters) – Tesla Inc on Tuesday won its first U.S. trial over allegations that its Autopilot feature led to death, a major victory for the automaker that faces several other similar lawsuits across the country.
The case was filed in California state court by two passengers in a 2019 crash who accused the company of knowing that the Autopilot system was defective when it sold the car. Tesla argued that human error caused the accident.
The 12-member jury announced Tuesday that it found the vehicle had no manufacturing defect. The ruling came on the fourth day of deliberations, and the voting result was 9-3.
Tesla representatives and plaintiffs did not immediately comment on the ruling.
The civil lawsuit alleged that the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly veer off an East Los Angeles freeway at 65 mph (105 kilometers per hour), hit a palm tree and burst into flames, all within seconds. .
The 2019 crash killed Lee and seriously injured his two passengers, including a then-8-year-old boy who was disemboweled, court documents show. The lawsuit filed against Tesla by passengers accuses the company of knowing that Autopilot and other safety systems were defective when it sold the car.
Tesla denied responsibility, saying Lee had consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel. The electric car manufacturer also claims that it was not clear whether Autopilot was operating at the time of the accident.
Tesla is testing and rolling out Autopilot and its most advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) system, which CEO Elon Musk has described as crucial to his company’s future but has been subject to regulatory and legal scrutiny.
Tesla won a previous trial in Los Angeles last April, with a strategy that it says tells drivers that its technology requires human monitoring, despite the “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” names.
That case involved an accident in which a Model S veered off a curb and hit its driver, and jurors told Reuters after the verdict that they believed Tesla had warned drivers about its system and that driver distraction was to blame.
(Reporting by Dan Levin and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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