There is “reasonable evidence” to conclude that Tesla and its officers, including CEO Elon Musk, knew its vehicles had defective Autopilot systems but still allowed the cars to be driven in areas “not safe for that technology,” a Florida judge found.
The ruling last week from Judge Reid Scott, in the Circuit Court for Palm Beach County, means the family of a man who died in a collision while his Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged can go to trial and seek punitive damages from Tesla for intentional misconduct and gross negligence. Reuters first reported the news.
The hit to Tesla comes after the electric vehicle maker won two product liability cases in California earlier this year over the safety of its Autopilot system. Autopilot is Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system that can perform automated driving tasks like navigating on and off highway ramps, cruise control, lane changes and automatic parking.
The Florida lawsuit was the result of a 2019 crash north of Miami. Owner Stephen Banner’s Model 3 drove under the trailer of an 18-wheeler truck that had turned onto the road, cutting off the Tesla’s roof and killing Banner. A trial that was set for October has been delayed, and has yet to be rescheduled.
When the case goes to trial, it might reveal new information about the reams of data Tesla collects, information that is usually top secret.
Tesla’s lawyers may rely on the precedent set in two previous cases this year, from which the automaker emerged victorious.
In April, Tesla secured a win after a California jury determined the automaker was not to blame for a 2019 crash involving Autopilot. Plaintiff Justine Hsu sued Tesla in 2020 for fraud, negligence and breach of contract, but was awarded no damages.
A few weeks ago, a jury sided with Tesla over allegations that Autopilot led to the death of Tesla driver Micah Lee in 2019. The two plaintiffs, survivors of the crash, alleged that Tesla knew its product was defective and sought $400 million in damages. Tesla argued that the crash was the result of human error.
The case — No. 50-2019-CA-009962 — is being tried in the Circuit Court for Palm Beach County, Florida.