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Tesla wins key court battle over Autopilot crash blame

Anyone else who wants to take on Musk, please take note

Tesla has convinced a California jury to side with it in a court battle brought by a driver who sued the electric car maker over a 2019 accident she alleged was Autopilot's fault.

In what appears to be the first trial related to an Autopilot crash, Los Angeles resident Justine Hsu said her Tesla swerved onto a curb while in Autopilot mode, leading her airbag to deploy with enough force to "cause numerous breaks in Hsu's jaw and the loss of multiple teeth," the complaint alleged. Hsu also allegedly suffered nerve damage as well.

In their arguments, Hsu's lawyers accused Tesla of negligence and warranty violations, as well as intentional misrepresentation of Autopilot's capabilities, something likely familiar to anyone keeping abreast of the myriad lawsuits and investigations Tesla is facing, including from the US Department of Justice.

This case, however, won't be seen as a win for Tesla opponents who have been seeking to take the company to task over Autopilot claims: Hsu was awarded zero damages, and the jury found that Tesla did everything right related to disclosing Autopilot's functionality. The jury also found the Autopilot and airbag systems in Hsu's car didn't fail, either.

Tesla denied liability in the case, and among other arguments said that Hsu was using Autopilot on city streets, which the vehicle's user manual says the system shouldn't be used for, Tesla's lawyers claimed.

The jurors by and large seemed to side with Tesla; they returned decisions that found the 2016 Model S's (Hsu's car) Autopilot feature performed adequately, as did the vehicle's airbag. Tesla further didn't make false statements to Ms. Hsu, nor did it fail to disclose a fact that Hsu "did not know and could not reasonably have discovered."

The jury opted to not answer questions as to whether Hsu herself was negligent.

Future cases take note

Hsu's case may be the first to end in a verdict, but it's hardly the only case being heard in courts over Tesla's Autopilot software and the safety and/or efficacy thereof.

Tesla is also facing lawsuits over phantom braking, collision monitoring and other issues, which have led shareholders to sue the company for allegedly lying about the capabilities of Tesla's Autopilot and full self driving.

Tesla has also been accused by its own former director of Autopilot software of misrepresenting a 2016 self-driving demo, which the ex-Tesla leader said was faked, and earlier this year the company was forced by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall FSD software because it ignored stop signs. Some of the vehicles caught up in the issue included Teslas as old as model year 2016.

Jurors in Hsu's case told Reuters they didn't believe Autopilot was at fault in this instance, and that Hsu's accident wouldn't have occurred had she been paying attention to the alarms and warnings her vehicle is supposed to emit when a driver isn't paying attention.

While the outcome in Hsu's trial is non-precedential, experts say that it's likely to be a bellwether for Tesla's defense of its responsibility in Autopilot and FSD accidents and may indicate how similar cases may shake out - with Tesla on the winning end. ®

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