Wrongful death trial for Apple engineer begins

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Tesla and its controversial Autopilot driver assistance system goes on trial again today in California.
It’s fighting a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Walter Huang, an Apple engineer who was killed in 2018 when his Tesla Model X drove head-first into a highway gore.
(In the years since, Tesla has abandoned the use of forward-looking radar, relying on just optical cameras instead.)
His Model X drifted toward the highway gore on at least two occasions within the four weeks leading up to the fatal crash.
Tesla came under heavy fire for both misleading marketing and for its lax approach to the system’s operational design domain.
NHTSA, unlike the NTSB, has regulatory powers over the automotive industry and could have reined in Tesla had it chosen to.
The suit alleges that Tesla caused the wrongful death of Huang and was responsible for selling a defective product that was “unreasonably dangerous when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.
For example, we now know that Tesla faked a widely viewed Autopilot demonstration video in 2016, something personally overseen by Musk himself.

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Today in California, a new trial concerning Tesla and its contentious Autopilot driver assistance system is underway. The family of Apple engineer Walter Huang, who died in 2018 when his Tesla Model X crashed head-first into a highway gore, is suing in a wrongful death lawsuit. In two separate trials last year, California juries cleared the automaker, suggesting that Tesla may succeed in court even in light of the conclusions of a highly critical National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

frequent grievances.

On March 23, 2018, Huang lost his life when his Model X, which was presumably confused by an interchange with State Highway 85 to its left, crashed at 70 mph into a concrete divider on US Highway 101.

Huang had faith in Tesla Autopilot, the automaker’s semi-autonomous driving system that at the time used a combination of optical and forward-looking radar sensors to regulate the car’s speed in relation to other vehicles and maintain it centered within its lane. In the years that have passed, Tesla has stopped using forward-looking radar and has switched to using only optical cameras. ).

As per the lawsuit, he had a reasonable belief that the 2017 Tesla Model X was safer than a vehicle operated by humans because of the “programmes, software, hardware, and systems that were designed to eliminate the risk of harm or injury to the vehicle operator caused by the vehicle failing to drive at safe speeds, failing to operate only within marked travel lanes, failing to avoid other vehicles or obstacles while driving on highways, or accelerating into fixed objects or vehicles while in autopilot mode.”. ****.

His confidence stems from the way Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has spoken about the system on numerous occasions.

Apart from a much looser operation design domain that allowed drivers to go longer than the industry-standard 15 seconds without taking their hands off the wheel, the system was actually not all that different from other cars equipped with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. Because Tesla “was pushing the envelope in terms of safety,” in fact, the electric vehicle manufacturer’s original Autopilot technology supplier severed its ties with the company. ****.

At that specific location on the 101, Huang had good reason to keep an eye on his vehicle. At least twice in the four weeks preceding the deadly collision, his Model X veered toward the highway gore. The logs that were recovered from the SD card of the car made this information evident, and messages exchanged between Huang and his friend Hans Ting also corroborated it.

“Do you feel AP [Autopilot] is better? I feel it is better,” Ting questioned Huang following the second near-miss on March 19. less jerky. In response, Huang said to his friend in Mandarin, “Nope, I feel almost the same.”. led me to nearly crash into the median this morning. It would always push me in the direction of the center of the two lines at the 85-second interval. “.

utilizing his phone to play a game.

Unfortunately on March 23, Huang was not listening. Tesla asserts that he was using his iPhone to play Sega Total War: Three Kingdoms instead. Huang possessed two Apple-provided smartphones that had improved logging for troubleshooting.

After the crash, some of these logs were saved from one of the two phones with Apple’s assistance, and it was revealed that he had been playing Three Kingdoms on his commute every day, even the week before he passed away.

The NTSB further states that the game “was active during the driver’s trip to work.”. For the last seventeen minutes, however, there were no log entries pertaining to Three Kingdoms.

NTSB assigns a lot of blame.

An NTSB investigation into the crash was launched, and the agency released its findings in 2020. The board had a lot to say against it. Both for its careless handling of the system’s operational design domain and its deceptive marketing, Tesla faced harsh criticism.

“A driver must remain actively involved in the driving task in every vehicle sold to US consumers, even when advanced driver assistance systems are engaged. One cannot sell a self-driving car if it has an advanced driver assistance system installed. NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt declared, “You do not own a self-driving car if you are operating a vehicle equipped with an advanced driver assistance system.”.

However, the NTSB chastised CalTrans, the California highway agency, for failing to replace a damaged crash attenuator in front of the concrete barrier, an action that could have prevented Huang’s death.

Mostly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was the target of the NTSB’s ire. Unlike the NTSB, the NHTSA is able to regulate the auto industry and, had it so desired, could have put a stop to Tesla.

legal action.

In 2019, the Huang family filed a lawsuit against Tesla and the state of California. A safe and properly functioning automatic emergency braking system should prevent a vehicle from accelerating into any fixed object, according to the allegation that the Model X “lacked a properly designed system for crash avoidance.” This is another feature the Model X was allegedly missing, even though similar technology was present at the time and could be found in many other makes and models, including vehicles that were far less expensive than a Tesla Model X.

According to the lawsuit, Tesla sold a defective product that was “unreasonably dangerous when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner,” which is what led to Huang’s untimely death. For instance, we now know that Tesla, under Musk’s direct supervision, staged a highly watched Autopilot demonstration video in 2016.

A reasonable manufacturer, supplier, or seller in the same or similar position is what the lawsuit alleges, and Tesla is also accused of negligence. would have notified the public, buyers, users, and consumers of the 2017 Tesla Model X of the product’s impacted condition, implemented a product exchange program, and/or issued a recall. “.

After hundreds of complaints to the NHTSA, Autopilot was finally the subject of a safety recall in 2023.

The suit claims that the crash attenuator “was either altered, modified, or damaged in a prior collision more than one week before the incident,” and that the agency had plenty of time to fix it in the days preceding Huang’s crash. California is also accused of failing to maintain its highways in a safe condition.

According to Tesla, Huang should have been paying attention rather than fiddling with his phone in the six seconds prior to the deadly collision, and the company has acknowledged in the past that Huang’s hands were not seen on the steering wheel. “His extremely unusual mishandling of his car and its Autopilot functions so that he could play a video game was the only reason for this collision,” Tesla stated in a filing.

Even though the plaintiffs have attempted to refute this evidence, they have informed Ars that they were never granted the chance to question the Apple engineer who Tesla claims proved Huang was using his phone to play games at the time.

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