Tesla Sued by Driver Crashing While On Autopilot

The owner of an electric car manufactured by Tesla is suing the company after having crashed into a firetruck while on Autopilot. According to her attorney, the suit involves allegations of misleading marketing and a defective product in regards to the Autopilot feature.

“They [Tesla] need to go away from autopilot to assisted driving,” the driver’s attorney, Jeffery Metler, told ABC News. “Because right now Tesla is not ready for autopilot. So they’re trying to lay the blame at the feet of the drivers, which is what they’ve done for every crash.”

Tesla’s response to the lawsuit was as follows: “When using Autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times. Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”

Autopilot is an advanced driver-assistance system and not a self-driving system, according to the statement made by Tesla. However, their website’s Autopilot section states the following: “All Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

Tesla also issued a statement to ABC News, saying, “the feedback that we get from our customers shows that they have a very clear understanding of what Autopilot is, how to properly use it, and what features it consists of.”

But Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been in question several times before in other accidents, not just involving Metler’s client, Heather Lommatzsch. Last March there was a fatality with a Model X Crash where the company released a blog defending Autopilot’s safety record; In June, a Tesla sedan in Autopilot mode crashed in Laguna Beach, California, resulting in minor injuries.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation and Safety Board has launched at least three investigations into accidents related to Tesla’s Autopilot function.

“They claim it’s an autopilot car,” Metler added. “They put out a message that’s not consistent. That leaves the public relying on the safety of the cars but I don’t think the technology is to the point that people can safely rely on it.”

Metler’s client, 29-year old Lommatzsch, says she on Autopilot when she crashed her Tesla S into the stopped firetruck. The accident took place last May in South Jordon, a Salt Lake City suburb, while she was on the phone.

It is reasonable to assume that drivers using their phones while driving at the time of an accident are usually at fault, Metler said. However, in the case of Tesla’s Autopilot, “we look at it and think it was reasonable to trust the safety features the way it was advertised. Those safety features failed her,” he added.

Lommatzsch suffered injuries to her right foot after several attempts to break before the crash occurred, according to Metler.

“She tried to break multiple times, laying on the break,” he said, adding that Lommatzsch has had “two surgeries and a bone graft for her foot and may need another as a result of the crash.”

Metler also said that his client bought the car from a Tesla dealership in Utah in 2016 and has been the car’s sole owner.

“Based on conversations with Tesla salespeople,” according to the suit, Lommatzsch believed the “Model S’s safety features would ensure the vehicle would stop on its own in the event of an obstacle being present in the path of the Tesla Model S.”

The suite alleges that a Tesla salesperson told her “she could drive in Autopilot mode and just touch the steering wheel occasionally.”

The South Jordan Police Department report cited information about the vehicle as provided by Tesla: “Drivers are repeatedly advised Autopilot features do not make Tesla vehicles “autonomous” and that the driver absolutely must remain vigilant with their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and they must be prepared to take any and all action necessary to avoid hazards on the road.”

Tesla’s account, as cited on the police report, also stated that Lommatzsch’s car “registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering wheel in this drive cycle. On two such occasions, she had her hands off the wheel for more than one minute each time and her hands came back on only after a visual alert was provided. Each time she put her hands back on the wheel, she took them back off the wheel after a few seconds.”  

According to that same report, Lommatzsch had her hands off the wheel for the 80 seconds before the car accident.

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