As Tesla Crash Victim's Family Hires Lawyer, Automaker Places Blame on Driver

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
as tesla crash victims family hires lawyer automaker places blame on driver

Tesla could soon find itself on the receiving end of a wrongful death lawsuit. The family of Walter Huang, the driver of a Tesla Model X that crashed into a concrete highway divider in Mountain View, California in March, has sought out the assistance of a law firm to “explore legal options.”

The crash occurred as the vehicle travelled along US-101 in Autopilot mode. Tesla released two statements following the fatal wreck, divulging that the driver had not touched the steering wheel in the six seconds prior to impact. While company claims the responsibility for the crash rests on the driver, law firm Minami Tamaki LLP faults Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system for the death.

In a blog post, the firm writes that a “preliminary review has uncovered complaints by other Tesla drivers of navigational errors by the Autopilot feature, and other lawsuits have also made this complaint. 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 family intends to file a wrongful death suit, the law firm claims.

In response to news reports of Huang’s family hiring legal aid, Tesla released a statement (via Bloomberg). The message claims there was no broken promise — that the victim knew his Autopilot system was not perfect, and that the system itself warned the driver to take back the wheel. Following a deadly 2016 Autopilot crash in Florida, Tesla pumped up the messaging around Autopilot, making it clearer than before that the system las limits.

From Tesla’s statement:

According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect

and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location, yet he

nonetheless engaged Autopilot at that location. The crash happened on a clear day

with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means 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.

Minami Tamaki claims its preliminary review “indicates that the navigation system of the Tesla may have misread the lane lines on the roadway, failed to detect the concrete median, failed to brake the car, and drove the car into the median.”

The law firm notes that the concrete highway median was “missing its crash attenuator guard, as Caltrans failed to replace the guard after an earlier crash there. The lack of a guard potentially increased Huang’s injuries.”

Huang’s family said he complained to Tesla that his vehicle behaved strangely while driving in Autopilot mode along that stretch of highway, and that the vehicle attempting to drive off the road. Tesla claims Huang’s complaint related to a navigation issue. Following the crash, a Tesla owner who travels that same stretch on his way to work released a video showing his car steering towards the concrete divider while in Autopilot mode. The vehicle seemed to follow the wrong painted line while approaching the divider, placing it on a collision course.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have opened investigations into the crash.

[Image: Tesla]

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on Apr 13, 2018

    It appears to me that someone is going to have to prove said driver was incapable of taking control of the car in order to win this suit. If said driver intentionally let the car crash, then it is TOTALLY on the driver.

  • JimC2 JimC2 on Apr 14, 2018

    If anything, the people who were stuck in traffic should collectively sue his estate for lost time, being late for work, psychological trauma of witnessing a car wreck, etc. Let his family's lawyers chew on that one for a while.

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.