A lawsuit recently filed by a Florida man against Tesla claiming that the autopilot feature on a Model S malfunctioned and caused him to have an accident raises questions about where the fault truly lies.
Gregory Rodriguez, an attorney with Best, Best & Krieger, recently said that difficulties exist in determining fault in situations such as this.
"With regards to liability, it comes down to 'What should a reasonable person be able to rely upon?' and to the word 'autopilot,' – is that a name that implies that you should be able to just assume that the car can do everything on its own?" Rodriguez told the Florida Record.
Rodriguez said this situation has already surfaced in California and that extra safety measures are being taken by the California Department of Motor Vehicles around regulations being implemented for autonomous cars in order to educate drivers as to what the car can and cannot do, and what the role of the driver is. This is also an issue the federal government is seeking to address in guidance released by the National Highway Traffic Administration and in S.1885 known as the “AV START” Act pending in Congress.
"Another factor is, 'What sort of duty does Tesla have to educate drivers about the capability of the vehicle?' and that is what this person in the lawsuit is arguing," Rodriguez said.
According to the lawsuit, the driver claims that Tesla made false statements about the capabilities of the autopilot feature of his car, and that the malfunctioning of his Model S resulted in permanent injuries.
"Even with the warnings in Teslas saying that the driver must be attentive, is that enough to absolve Tesla’s responsibility?" Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said there are still many questions regarding the word "autopilot" and how much individuals should be able to rely on a car, versus the claims that are made in the dealership, versus the warnings that a car displays every time the drivers starts the vehicle.
"The consumer needs to truly understand the capabilities, but at the same time a company needs to make sure that it is explaining the capabilities of the technology to the consumer and not overselling or overhyping something," Rodriguez said. "This is a challenge for Tesla and other companies as 'autonomous' driving systems come online because it makes the car very attractive, but there is that danger of crossing a line where you are potentially misrepresenting a technology. With the infancy of autonomous technologies, this is an important issue to get right not only from a consumer safety standpoint, but also for public adoption and trust."