Tesla Settles Lawsuit Over Crash That Killed Apple Engineer

Tesla has reportedly settled a lawsuit from a family of an Apple engineer who was killed in a 2018 crash involving the EV’s giant’s Autopilot driver assistant program.

The Associated Press reported that Tesla settled the lawsuit by the family of Walter Huang, just days before a trail was scheduled to begin.

38-year-old Walter Huang died in a crash on 23 March 2018 on a San Francisco Bay Area highway, while relying on the company’s Autopilot software whilst he played a game on his mobile phone.

The Tesla Model X. Image credit: Tesla

Autopilot crash

Huang had reportedly dropped his son off at preschool, and then he activated the Autopilot feature on his Model X for his commute to his job at Apple.

Less than 20 minutes later, Autopilot allegedly veered Huang’s vehicle out of its lane and began to accelerate before crashing into a barrier located at an intersection on a busy highway in Mountain View, California.

The Model X was still travelling at more than 70 miles per hour (110km per hour) at the time of the crash.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that Huang had been using an iPhone and recovered logs that showed a word-building game was active.

Tesla recommends users be prepared to take over from Autopilot at all times, and that drivers do not remove their hands from the steering wheel whilst Autopilot is engaged.

Huang left behind his wife and two children, now 12 and 9 years old.

The family of Walter Huang filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit in 2019 seeking to hold Tesla – and, by extension, its CEO Elon Musk – liable for repeatedly exaggerating the capabilities of Tesla’s self-driving car technology, the Associated Press reported.

The family alleged Autopilot was promoted in egregious ways that caused vehicle owners to believe they didn’t have to remain vigilant while they were behind the wheel.

Tesla settlement

Now the AP reported that Tesla has settled the lawsuit, but the amount it paid was not disclosed in court documents filed Monday.

In a court filing requesting to keep the settlement private, Tesla reportedly said it agreed to settle the case in order to “end years of litigation.”

The NTSB in 2020 had criticised Tesla’s design of its semi-automated driving assistance system. It also condemned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a “hands-off approach” to regulating the popular system.

It should noted that the NTSB can only make recommendations, while NHTSA regulates US vehicles.

Autopilot claims

Tesla is currently facing a number of legal actions and investigations over its self-driving technology.

Besides Autopilot, Tesla also offers a more advanced program called Full Self Driving (FSD). Last month Musk ordered that all Tesla buyers in the US must be shown how to use FSD, despite admitting that it will slow deliveries.

The Elon Musk firm is also facing a criminal probe by the US Department of Justice over claims its vehicles can drive themselves.

California’s state transportation regulator has previously accused Tesla of false advertising since the features do not provide full autonomous vehicle control.

Legal victory

It comes as Tesla critics say the EV company has lulled drivers into a false sense of security with public statements about Autopilot’s capabilities and with a product design that allows their attention to wander while the system controls the vehicle.

But Tesla has beaten a lawsuit concerning this technology.

In November 2023 Tesla won a civil court legal action filed in Riverside County Superior Court in California, that had alleged Tesla’s Autopilot system had caused 37 year-old Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly veer off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour) back in 2019.

The EV then struck a palm tree and burst into flames.

Lee’s family, who were passengers in the vehicle, accused Tesla of knowing that Autopilot was defective when it sold them the car.

Tesla was found not to be liable for the death of a Micah Lee whose vehicle crashed while allegedly driving in Autopilot.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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