Tesla Autopilot not responsible for crash that killed driver on 215 Freeway in Menifee, jury finds

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Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Tesla Autopilot not responsible for fatal crash in Menifee, jury finds
A jury has ruled that Tesla's Autopilot technology was not responsible for a 2019 crash that left a driver dead.

MENIFEE, Calif. (KABC) -- In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit to go to trial, a jury on Tuesday ruled that Tesla's Autopilot technology was not responsible for a 2019 crash that killed a driver on the 215 Freeway in Menifee.

Several similar lawsuits are pending against the electric vehicle maker over the technology.

The driver, Micah Lee, died in the crash that left two passengers seriously injured, Bloomberg reported in an a news article published in the Los Angeles Daily News. Lee's family sought $400 million in damages in the lawsuit.

The collision occurred when Lee's Model 3 Tesla veered off the 215 Freeway.

In January, Tesla disclosed that the Justice Department had requested documents related to its Autopilot and "Full Self-Driving" features. Both features are classified as driver-assist systems, and the company says on its website that the vehicles cannot drive themselves.

Last month, the company disclosed that federal prosecutors have expanded investigations into Tesla beyond the electric vehicle maker's partially automated driving systems, and they have issued subpoenas for information instead of simply requesting it,

The probe is "a lot wider than just looking at Autopilot and FSD features," said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business and law professor. "The DOJ often starts with a formal written request and escalates to administrative subpoenas if it thinks it isn't getting full cooperation," he said.

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Nathaniel Radimak was seen in multiple videos in road-rage attacks, sometimes using a metal pipe to batter vehicles.

Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" hardware went on sale late in 2015, and Musk has used the name ever since as the company gathered data to teach its computers how to drive. The company recently cut the "Full Self-Driving" price $3,000 to $12,000.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis by 2020, and he said in early 2022 that the cars would be autonomous that year. In April, Musk said the system should be ready in 2023.

Since 2021, Tesla has been beta-testing "Full Self-Driving" using volunteer owners. On Tesla's third-quarter earnings conference call last week, Musk didn't directly answer a question about the timeline for Tesla vehicles to drive themselves and be deployed as robotaxis. "I guess I am very excited about our progress with autonomy," he said, adding that the system can drive him around Austin with no interventions.

But Tesla's partially automated driving systems have been under investigation by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since June of 2016 when a driver using Autopilot was killed after his Tesla went under a tractor-trailer crossing its path in Florida. A separate probe into Teslas that were using Autopilot when they crashed into emergency vehicles started in August 2021. At least 14 Teslas that have crashed into emergency vehicles while using the Autopilot system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.