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Lawsuit: Tesla autopilot feature accelerated on its own, causing crash

Joseph Geha, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

A 2017 Tesla Model S sedan on autopilot mode suddenly began to accelerate on its own as it headed toward a highway offramp, ran off the road and crashed into a tree, according to a lawsuit filed by the driver.

Tesla’s autopilot mode, which the electric carmaker claims allows its vehicles to steer, accelerate and brake automatically in their lanes, is “at best a work in progress,” the lawsuit says.

Christopher Hinze, of Washington D.C., is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from Tesla for liability, negligence and breach of warranty.

His federal suit says Hinze suffered “catastrophic” injuries including shattered and fractured vertebrae and chest pain from the June 20, 2020 accident while driving his friend’s Tesla. The injuries required emergency spinal fusion surgery, and weeks of hospitalized recovery time.

“This isn’t an isolated incident,” David Wright, an attorney for the Southern California law firm McCune Wright Arevalo LLp, said in an interview Thursday.

The suit alleges that, unlike some other Tesla crashes involving the autopilot feature, Hinze was “actively and consciously maintaining active supervision of the vehicle, including keeping his hands on the steering wheel,” as Tesla recommends, when the car veered off the roadway.

 

Hinze activated a turn signal and the car merged into an exit lane, heading toward an interchange from Interstate 495 onto Route 123, which includes a “significant curve,” the suit says.

“Based on Tesla’s representations regarding the Autopilot feature and its performance during the journey so far, (Hinze) reasonably expected that the vehicle would be able to successfully navigate the transition road between the two freeways and proceed with the trip,” the suit says.

But in “a split second at the beginning of the curve,” Hinze recognized the Tesla was not going to reduce speed and make the turn.

Though Tesla says its autopilot does not mean “autonomous,” and that drivers must actively supervise the vehicle, Tesla’s website says the product “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane.”

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