According to a report from TechCrunch, Tesla—the Austin based electric vehicle manufacturer—has prevailed in the first “autopilot” wrongful death lawsuit. The claim was brought by family members of a 37-year-old man who was killed in a single car crash in Riverside County in 2019. Here, our Stockton wrongful death attorney provides an overview of this case, including what happened, the decision of the jury, and the standard of liability for wrongful death cases in California.
Background: California Man Killed in Alleged Tesla Autopilot Crash in 2019
The wrongful death lawsuit in this case was filed on behalf of the family of Micah Lee, a 37-year-old man who was killed in a 2019 crash in Menifee, California. Unfortunately, Mr. Lee’s wife and his young child suffered serious injuries in the crash. The wrongful death claim was filed based on allegations that a defect related to Tesla’s autopilot feature contributed to the collision.
Tesla Autopilot is an advanced driver-assistance system featuring adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and traffic-aware cruise control. It is a semi-autonomous feature. While providing enhanced driving comfort and safety, Tesla’s autopilot feature does require driver supervision. It does not make the car fully autonomous.
Jury Verdict: No Liability for Tesla in Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Upon review, a jury in Southern California ruled in favor of Tesla in the wrongful death lawsuit. It is a landmark decision as there are other similar cases still pending in the state. The plaintiffs had sought $400 million in damages, claiming Tesla sold a defective Autopilot system. However, the jury concluded that human error, not Autopilot, was the primary cause of the accident. The jury in the case determined that the driver had consumed alcohol prior to the crash—though the BAC level was below the legal limit in California.
Other People Have Been Involved in Catastrophic Tesla Autopilot Collisions
Notably, this is not the only “autopilot” crash case that Tesla is currently facing. Quite the contrary, the electric vehicle manufacturer is currently involved in several other legal cases in California. For example, a significant wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the family of Walter Huang, a former Apple engineer who was killed in a crash in 2018 in Santa Clara County. A wrongful death lawsuit is pending and that claim contends that a malfunction of the Tesla autopilot contributed to the wreck. Beyond the wrongful death claims, Tesla is facing scrutiny of the safety of its autopilot feature from the California Department of Transportation and federal regulators.
Know the Law: What You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Claim in California
Wrongful death claims in California among the most challenging, specialized types of legal cases. If you and your family are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is crucial that you understand the grounds for liability. The standard of fault in a wrongful death case depends on the specific cause of action. Here is an overview of the law in California:
Negligence (Most Claims)
In California, liability in most wrongful death claims is based on the legal theory of negligence. Broadly explained, negligence is the failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under similar circumstances. Put another way, it is unsafe actions or inactions that should never have happened. To successfully establish negligence in a wrongful death claim in California, you will need to prove the following:
- Duty of Care: The defendant must have had a legal duty to the deceased. As a simple example, drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely.
- Breach of Duty: The defendant must have breached this duty through unsafe actions or inactions. An example would be a driver running a red light.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty must have directly contributed to the death. Without causation, there is no liability for a wrongful death.
- Damages: The death resulted in quantifiable damages, such as funeral expenses, loss of income, and emotional distress to the family.
Strict Liability (Product Defect Claims)
It is important to clarify that the standard for liability for a wrongful death case in California is different in a product liability claim. Under California state law, the doctrine of strict liability holds manufacturers and sellers responsible for deaths caused by their defective products—regardless of whether they were negligent. That being said, companies are not automatically liable for a death related to a product. Here are are the elements that must be proved to establish liability:
- Defective Product: The product must have defective when it left the manufacturer’s control. Proving that the product in questions was defective is key to establishing liability in a wrongful death claim for a dangerous and defective product.
- Use as Intended: The deceased must have been using the product in a way that was reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer. If a product was used in an improper and not reasonably foreseeable manner, the company may not be liable for.
- Causation: Finally, the defect directly caused the death. For example, a faulty car brake that contributes to a fatal accident could be sufficient to establish fault for a wrongful death on the grounds of product liability.
A Comprehensive Investigation of a Fatal Accident is a Must
All fatal accidents require a comprehensive investigation. Unfortunately, grieving families cannot trust a major corporation or a big insurance company to look out for their interests. It is imperative that families are represented by a Stockton wrongful death attorney who has the professional skills and legal expertise to take on the case.
Contact Our Stockton, CA Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton wrongful death attorney is a compassionate advocate for grieving families. It is our mission to help grieving families get justice, closure, accountability, and the maximum financial support. Contact us right away to set up your free, strictly confidential case evaluation. From our legal office in the heart of Stockton, we handle wrongful death claims throughout California, including in Sacramento, Sutter Creek, Lodi, and Manteca.