Tesla Autopilot Malfunction Caused Crash That Killed Apple Engineer, Lawsuit Alleges

By Jennings Brown on at

Apple engineer Walter Huang was driving his 2017 Tesla Model X on US Highway 101 in Mountain View, in the US state of California, the morning of 23 March 2018, when the car steered left into a concrete median, killing Huang in the resulting crash.

Now, just over a year later, the Huang’s family has sued Tesla, alleging that its Autopilot system malfunctioned, causing the deadly crash.

The family filed the complaint in the California Superior Court, County of Santa Clara, on 26 April. As Bloomberg points out, the suit argues that Tesla was aware, or should have been aware, “that the Tesla Model X was likely to cause injury to its occupants by leaving travel lanes and striking fixed objects when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.” The suit asserts that the company should have given a warning to consumers or issued a recall.

The complaint further claims the vehicle did not have the proper safety features, including automatic emergency brakes. The lawsuit also names the California Department of Transportation, alleging that the media Huang’s car struck lacked a functioning crash attenuator guard.

Tesla declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a Tesla spokesperson told Gizmodo that all Tesla cars come with automatic braking.

The US National Transportation Safety Board investigation said in April 2018 that Huang’s car was following a vehicle at about 65 miles per hour until it turned to the left, according to NTSB’s preliminary review of the data. As the car drove toward the median, it did not break—rather, it accelerated from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour in the three seconds leading up to the collision, NTSB said.

In a blog post published a week after the crash, Tesla said that the car gave Huang one audible alert and several visual alerts throughout his drive that morning, and the car detected that his hands were not on the wheel for the six seconds leading up to the wreck. “The driver had about five seconds and 150 metres of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken,” the blog states.

“Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents—such a standard would be impossible—but it makes them much less likely to occur,” the company’s blog post continues. “It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists.”

In a statement sent to several media outlets a lawyer representing Huang’s family, B. Mark Fong, said Huang’s crash occurred because “Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers.”

The lawsuit was filed a week after Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced his plans to put one million automated taxis on roads by 2020.

Featured image: Screenshot: KPIX CBS SF Bay Area (YouTube)