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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 43 comments
  • 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.

  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.
  • Kat Laneaux I get the point that Musk is making. I wouldn't want everyone to know my secrets. If they did, they could or would shout it out to the world. But then, if Musk certified certain folks and had them sign Confidentiality agreements, which would allow them to work on cars that Musk had made, that could allow others to work on his cars and not confine vehicle owners to be charged an arm and a leg for the service. It's a catch 22. People are greedy little buggers. If they can find a way to make money, they will even if it wrong. People...sad.
  • 285exp I have been assured that EVs don’t require maintenance, so this seems pointless.
  • Slavuta "The fuel-economy numbers are solid, especially the 32 mpg on the highway"My v6 Highlander did 31 over 10 hour highway trip
  • Aja8888 As I type this, my 4 months old Equinox's Onstar module that controls the phone is broken. Yep, 4 months (never worked right from day one). Replacement will be a REFURBISHED unit since no new ones can be obtained (from China?). I really don't miss the phone via Bluetooth. And I have a great Garmin that I have used for years for trips which has free lifetime maps and traffic.