The family of a man who was killed in a fiery crash involving a Tesla Model X vehicle plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the car company over allegations of a faulty Autopilot system, according to an announcement by a legal firm representing the family.
San Mateo resident Walter Huang, 38, suffered major injuries and later died after his 2017 Tesla collided with a median on Highway 101 in Mountain View on March 23. Vehicle logs recovered by Tesla showed that Huang had been using the vehicle's Autopilot function at the time of the crash, when the vehicle hit a cement barrier between Highway 101 and the Highway 85 carpool flyover, according to the company.
In an online post Wednesday, the law firm Minami Tamaki stated that the family intends to file the wrongful death suit against Tesla, and could potentially extend the suit to any subcontractors involved in the design and construction of the Autopilot system. An early review by the law firm indicated that the Autopilot system installed in the Model X may have misread painted lanes on the roadway, failed to detect the concrete median and failed to brake the car, according to the post.
"The firm believes Tesla's Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused Huang's death, despite Tesla's apparent attempt to blame the victim of this terrible tragedy," the law firm said in a statement.
The company lists grounds for the suit including liability, defective product design, and intentional and negligent misrepresentation.
In a blog post last month, Tesla officials said the company reviewed the crash and found that Huang had Autopilot engaged in the moments before the crash, and that he had ignored "several visual" and one audible warning to take the wheel again. The vehicle did not detect Huang's hands on the steering wheel during the six seconds prior to the collision, according to the blog post, and he had "about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider."
Tesla doubled down on the argument that Huang was largely at fault for the crash, noting that the "only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so."
"The fundamental premise of both moral and legal liability is a broken promise, and there was none here," according to the statement issued to media outlets Wednesday. "Tesla is extremely clear that Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel. This reminder is made every single time Autopilot is engaged."
In the weeks following the crash, Tesla officials have emphasized the strong safety track record of the company's Autopilot technology, citing statistics showing that crashes are far less likely to occur when Autopilot is active. The company cites statistics gathered by a federal traffic safety agency showing that the first iteration of Autopilot, released a year ago, reduced crash rates by about 40 percent, and argues that the technology has only gotten better since then.
"The reason that other families are not on TV is because their loved ones are still alive," Tesla officials said in the statement.
Both Tesla and the aggrieved family have also pinned blame on Caltrans for allegedly failing to maintain a safety guard, known as an attenuator barrier, at the location of the crash that could have reduced the impact of the crash. Tesla officials claimed, shortly after the accident, that the barrier had "either been removed or crushed" in a prior accident and had not been replaced. The Minami Tamaki law firm also said the family "may" file a lawsuit against the California Department of Transportation for what it calls dangerous conditions of public property.