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Automatic driving technology and the issue of product defects

Last time, we mentioned the increasing prevalence of automatic driving technology in new vehicle models, and the various levels of automation these technologies fall into. As we noted, determining liability in the event of an accident involving automatic driving technology is an issue that is going to become increasingly important.

The issue of product defects is bound to be an important one in resolving these cases, particularly when the driving technology is at a high level of automation. In fact, the issue of defectiveness is likely to be more prevalent at lower levels of automation, since distinguishing between driver error and product defects is bound to be more challenging. One of the companies that is demonstrating this is Tesla. 

Tesla, which is known for its efforts to make replace gasoline with electricity in consumer vehicles, is currently facing legal issues surrounding its semi-autonomous driving system known as Autopilot. The technology was first released to the public in 2015. In its first incarnation, Autopilot allowed drivers to set the speed and destination, and the vehicle would make automatic lane changes. Last October, Tesla announced it would be adding features to Autopilot through software releases. These enhanced features came at additional cost to consumers.

Some have claimed that Tesla carelessly marketed the Autopilot feature technology and knew that drivers were using it improperly, believing that the technology was a higher level of automation than it actually is. Now, a class action lawsuit is proceeding against the company in which plaintiffs are claiming that some of the features are not yet operational and that Tesla’s enhanced features software make vehicles behave erratically, presenting a safety risk.

Tesla has largely defended itself against Autopilot litigation, though the mounting litigation surely presents challenges for the company. In our next post, we’ll look at topic of product defects, and the importance of working with an experienced attorney to effectively address such liabilities as a business.

Sources:

Forbes, “Tesla Customers Sue Over 'Dangerous' And Non-Functioning Autopilot Software,” Alan Ohnsman, April 19, 2017.

Automotive News, “Lawsuit adds to scrutiny of Tesla's Autopilot,” Katie Burke, Sept. 19, 2016. 

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