In a recent judicial ruling in Florida, evidence was found suggesting that Elon Musk, along with other executives at Tesla, were aware of flaws in the company’s self-driving technology but continued to allow the vehicles to operate in potentially dangerous conditions.
Judge points to Tesla’s ‘deceptive’ marketing strategy
Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Reid Scott identified evidence indicating that Tesla engaged in a deceptive marketing strategy, portraying its products as autonomous. Musk’s public statements about the technology significantly influenced public perception of the product’s capabilities.
This ruling, reported by Reuters, paves the way for a lawsuit regarding a deadly accident in 2019 near Miami involving a Tesla Model 3. The vehicle collided with an 18-wheeler truck, resulting in the tragic death of the driver, Stephen Banner.
Lawsuit alleges gross negligence from Tesla
The lawsuit, filed by Banner’s widow, alleges intentional misconduct and gross negligence on Tesla’s part, potentially leading to punitive damages. This comes after Tesla’s victories in two product liability lawsuits in California earlier this year, which focused on alleged defects in its Autopilot system.
Judge Scott also noted that the plaintiff should be allowed to argue that Tesla’s warnings in its manuals and through its “clickwrap” agreement were insufficient. He highlighted the striking similarities between this accident and a 2016 fatal crash involving Joshua Brown, where the Autopilot system failed to recognize crossing traffic.
Judge deduces that Tesla was aware of issues with autopilot system
The judge concluded that it would be reasonable to deduce that Tesla, through its CEO and engineers, was fully aware of the issues with the Autopilot failing to detect cross-traffic.
Banner’s attorney, Lake “Trey” Lytal III, expressed pride in the ruling, which they believe is based on evidence of punitive conduct.
2016 Tesla promotional video referenced
Additionally, Judge Scott referenced a 2016 Tesla promotional video showcasing a vehicle driving autonomously.
The video included a disclaimer that the driver was present only for legal reasons. However, the judge pointed out the absence of any indication in the video that the technology depicted was aspirational or not yet available in the market.
Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, commented to Reuters on the significance of the judge’s summary.
Inconsistencies between internal knowledge and Tesla marketing
He highlighted the “alarming inconsistencies” between Tesla’s internal knowledge and its public marketing statements. Smith stated that the opinion could lead to a public trial where substantial evidence potentially embarrassing for Tesla and Musk might be admitted.
This trial could result in a verdict that includes punitive damages, a significant development in the ongoing scrutiny of Tesla’s Autopilot technology, and its implications for road safety.