Tesla Argues No Duty to Design Fail-Safe Vehicle

A proposed class-action lawsuit alleges that vehicle manufacturer Tesla’s Model S and Model X are prone to unintentional, sudden acceleration. Several owners detail instances wherein their electric vehicles without warning barreled straight into a garage or wall, either as a result of human or computer error. More than two dozen cases of these unintended acceleration incidents are on file with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).drive

The lawsuit claims thousands of these vehicles have the potential to suddenly careen out-of-control.

Now, as the ABA Journal reports, the auto maker that specializes in high-end, fully-electric vehicles disputes the notion that it has a duty to consumers to design a vehicle that is fail-safe. The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Central California. It cited 26 reported incidents of sudden acceleration, 22 of which resulted in a crash. One of those crashes was accompanied with photographs in which a plaintiff reportedly was parking his vehicle in the garage and the vehicle allegedly propelled suddenly into the back wall of the garage. The wall collapsed partially into his living room. No one was home at the time, so the primary damage was to property.

Plaintiffs allege the vehicles were defectively designed. They assert that even if all of the incidents were caused by human error – and they don’t concede this to be the case – the company has a legal responsibility to prevent a vehicle that would stop this kind of acceleration. The plaintiffs say the company has received all these numerous reports, and yet has failed to do anything to fix the problem or warn customers.

This lack of response, they say, is even more baffling considering the vehicle reportedly is built with all the necessary hardware that would be needed for the vehicle’s computer system to intervene to prevent an unintended acceleration.

The vehicle manufacturer responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that its warranty covers neither state-specific consumer protection laws nor warranty claims. The company also argues there is no legal requirement that it build a vehicle that is “fail-safe.” It argues that no vehicle manufacturer has ever been held to that standard. Further, it says all the data it has on the reported unintended acceleration incidents indicate the incidents were the result of human error, not a design flaw in the car itself.

A hearing is set for that motion to dismiss in early May.

It’s not clear whether the company will prevail on this argument, but we do know the last time a vehicle manufacturer was accused of selling cars that were defective due to an unintended acceleration issue, it had to pay $29 million to various states and $1.2 billion in criminal penalties to the federal government. That company was Toyota. That case involved dozens of car accidents resulting in injury and death, and there was ultimately evidence the company intentionally misled consumers about the safety of its vehicles, and that it continued to make vehicles with dangerous parts that increased the odds of unintended acceleration, even knowing the danger.

Injury claims of this nature are referred to as “product liability” lawsuits. U.S. auto industry recalls hit a record in 2016 of 53.2 million vehicles.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Tesla responds to lawsuit by claiming it has no duty to design a fail-safe car, April 5, 2017, By Lorelei Laird, ABA Journal

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