Tesla autopilot case is finally decided

In 2019, Justine Hsu's Model S Tesla, which was on Autopilot, swerved and hit a curb, injuring her face.

Tesla autopilot case is finally decided
A Tesla logo on a Model S is photographed inside of a Tesla dealership in New York, U.S., April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

The backstory: In 2019, Justine Hsu's Model S Tesla, which was on Autopilot, swerved and hit a curb, injuring her face. She sued Tesla in 2020, seeking over US$3 million in damages. In her lawsuit, Hsu outlined negligence, fraud and breach of contract. Tesla's response? It argued that Hsu was using Autopilot on city roads, which Tesla's manual says not to do, and that the accident was not the company's fault.

More recently: Tesla's Autopilot technology has been causing quite a stir over the last two years. In fact, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the US Justice Department have all gotten involved to some extent, looking into Tesla's self-driving capabilities after a bunch of accidents. In February this year, Tesla also recalled over 360,000 cars for similar issues. But even with all this drama, Tesla's CEO Elon Musk is still confident the company can pull it off and achieve Full Self-Driving capabilities this year.

The development: Tesla won in a California state court trial on Friday over its Autopilot feature. One of the jurors said to Reuters that the feature doesn't mean the car drives itself. The jurors also said they believed the driver was to blame for being distracted while driving. Also, the airbag apparently worked fine. So, overall, Hsu wasn't awarded any damages.

Key comments:

"This case should be a wakeup call to Tesla owners: they can't over-rely on Autopilot, and they really need to be ready to take control and Tesla is not a self-driving system," said Ed Walters, who teaches a course on autonomous vehicles at Georgetown Law.

"Autopilot never confessed to be self pilot. It's not a self-driving car," said Mitchell Vasseur, a juror of the trial, to Reuters. "It's an auto assist and they were adamant about a driver needing to always be aware."

"When fatalities are involved, and they are on highways, jury perspectives can be different," said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Tesla faces an increasingly uphill battle to secure its competitive position, which makes its current valuation look even more unrealistic," said David Trainer, CEO of investment research firm New Constructs.

"The Tesla bull case has centered around the company's growth goals, which it is failing to meet."