Tesla is facing its first U.S. legal challenge over semi-autonomous technology in a consumer class action lawsuit accusing the electric carmaker of selling 47,000 vehicles with Autopilot software that is “dangerously defective” when it is engaged. According to a Bloomberg news report, the lawsuit alleges that drivers of these Tesla vehicles have basically “become beta testers of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous.” The complaint was filed in federal court in San Jose, California.
Consumers say the cars purchased for between $81,000 and $113,000 sometimes veer out of lanes. They also lurch, slam on the brakes for no reason, or fail to slow or stop when approaching other vehicles, when the Autopilot is activated. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Model S and Model X vehicle owners who bought their cars during the two quarters ending March 31. At least half of the 47,000 cars have second-generation Autopilot features that cost an extra $5,000 per car. Consumers claim that their cars’ features are either non-functioning or unsafe to use. Tesla marketed these vehicles promising full functionality by December 2016.
Tesla’s Recent Recall
Tesla has said it never claimed its vehicles are completely driverless or autonomous. The company issued a statement saying the lawsuit is baseless and merely a “disingenuous attempt to secure attorney’s fees posing as legitimate legal action.” Tesla also called the claims made by this lawsuit “a misrepresentation of facts” and “misinformation” that could harm consumer safety.
One day after this lawsuit was filed, Tesla recalled 53,000 Model S and Model X vehicles to replace defective electronic parking brakes that may not release properly. In these vehicles if the improperly assembled gear were to break, the parking brake could become stuck in place. All Tesla cars manufactured since October 2014 have Autopilot hardware, which has allowed the company to collect significant data from Autopilot-equipped vehicles operating in diverse road and weather conditions.
Autopilot Under Scrutiny
Tesla’s Autopilot feature came under fire last year when a 40-year-old man died in a Tesla crash after his Model S collided with an 18-wheeler on a Florida highway. This happened in May 2016. Consumer Reports urged Tesla to not call its assist feature Autopilot since its lulls drivers into a false sense of security urging them to believe that they could take their hands off the wheel and leave everything to the car.
Tesla has since warned drivers not to take the hands off the wheel and to be prepared to take control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice. The fatal crash in Florida did not trigger a lawsuit. However, there have been several reports around of the world of drivers getting into crashes as a result of Autopilot failure. Several of those injured in such crashes filed lawsuits against the company. Some drivers even alleged that Tesla vehicles suffer from a sudden acceleration problem. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted an investigation of the Autopilot feature following the fatal Florida crash and said there was nothing wrong with it.
Understanding Class Action Lawsuits
A class action is a type of lawsuit where one or several persons sue on behalf of a larger group of individuals referred to as “the class.” While class actions could be filed over a variety of issues from employer-employee disputes to defective products, there are two factors that are almost always present in every class action lawsuit. First, the issues in the dispute are common to all members of the class and second, the persons affected are larger in number, which makes it more efficient and feasible for them to band together and file one lawsuit instead of filing individual complaints. Depending on the type of class action, the resolution of the lawsuit binds all members of the class certified by the court.
Controversy Surrounding Class Actions
Class action lawsuits are often the only means of relief for individuals, even those who have suffered serious injuries as a result of corporate negligence, to remedy injustices committed by large corporations and entities. The class action is one of the few legal remedies the average person still has against those who wield power and authority. In personal injury cases, sometimes, class action lawsuits may still be the way to go because the cost of individual lawsuits could be far greater than the value of each claim.
The total damages to the class could be quite large. In these times of mass production and mass marketing, class actions are necessary to allow the common man to take on larger corporations, which would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. Where a defendant has engaged in a pattern of neglectful, unethical or wrongful behavior, a class action can provide an effective remedy for the group without the cost and significant time consumed by lawsuits.
Class action lawsuits are often controversial and are attacked by tort reform advocates who perceive it as a way for attorneys to make more money. This image of class action lawsuits is actually perpetrated by large corporations and other organizations that wish to undermine consumers’ ability to access the civil justice system not just to be compensated for a loss, but also to hold corporations accountable. Without this ability to safeguard our rights as consumers through the civil justice system, in many cases, large corporations would be free of any type of liability for the wrongs they commit. And no compensation would be provided to those who have been injured or even disabled as a result of such misconduct.
If you or a loved one has suffered or incurred losses as the result of a defective auto or vehicle part, it would be in your best interest to speak with a defective product lawyer in California at The Haeggquist and Eck Firm. We can help you better understand your options and help you make a decision that would in your best interest. We have worked with individuals from all over Southern California. Call us at (949) 724-9200 to schedule your free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.