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In Tesla trial over Autopilot fatality, lawyer cites ‘experimental vehicles’

An advertisement promotes Tesla Autopilot at a showroom of U.S. car manufacturer Tesla in Zurich, Switzerland March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The lawyer for Tesla Model 3 accident victims attacked the firm’s Autopilot driving help system in his opening statement in court on Thursday, saying, “A car company should never sell consumers experimental vehicles.”

In the first U.S. trial over charges that its Autopilot system killed a person, Tesla (TSLA.O) counsel called the collision “a classic human error.”

A legal action in California state court alleges that the Autopilot technology led Micah Lee’s Model 3 to unexpectedly swerve off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 mph (105 kph), hit a palm tree, and explode into flames in seconds.

According to court filings, Lee’s 2019 collision killed him and critically wounded his two passengers, including a disemboweled 8-year-old kid. Passengers and Lee’s estate sued Tesla for selling a car with faulty Autopilot and other safety features.

In defense of its safety, Tesla stated its Autopilot driver-assisting technology is not meant to perform abrupt highway turns.

In his opening statement at the trial in Riverside, California, plaintiff attorney Jonathan Michaels said that when 37-year-old Lee bought Tesla’s “full self-driving capability package” for $6,000 for his Model 3 in 2019, the system was in “beta,” meaning it wasn’t ready for release.

“A car company should never sell consumers experimental vehicles,” Michaels added.

Michaels noted that Tesla’s steering wheel performed a 43-degree rotation on a motorway and that “excessive steering command is a known issue.”

Tesla said its Autopilot technology places “guardrails” on the steering wheel angle at high speeds, limiting its highway steering to a little left or right.

Tesla also accused the driver of drunkenness. “The case is not about Autopilot,” Tesla attorney Michael Carey stated. “Autopilot improves road safety. Good thing, he remarked. “A classic human error caused the crash.”

According to the electric vehicle company, Autopilot’s engagement during the collision was unclear.

Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) systems, which CEO Elon Musk has called vital to the company’s future, have garnered regulatory and legal attention.

Tesla won a landmark trial in Los Angeles in April over an Autopilot crash by maintaining it notifies drivers that its system requires human supervision despite the “Autopilot” label. The motorist was hurt when a Model S veered against a curb in 2019. After the decision, jurors told Reuters they felt Tesla notified drivers about its technology and driver attention caused it.

This week’s trial and others are more important since individuals died. Tesla and the plaintiff’s lawyers debated facts and arguments.

Tesla won a fight to remove Musk’s Autopilot comments. According to court records, crash victims’ counsel might contend that Lee’s blood alcohol percentage was below the legal limit. The Riverside County Superior Court trial should take many weeks.

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