Tesla’s Constant Online Communication Could Play Role in Class Action

Tesla Model S Charging at Public Charging Station

Ji Chang Son, a Korean celebrity living in Orange County, California, was driving his new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV in September 2016 when the car suddenly accelerated through his garage and into his living room, injuring Son and his passenger. According to Son, the crash occurred spontaneously, with the car accelerating on its own. But, according to Tesla, the crash occurred because the car’s gas pedal was fully depressed, and the reason that Tesla knows is this is due to the fact that the Model X was continuously connected to the Internet, allowing the company to monitor from afar exactly what occurred in the moments leading to impact. Son recently filed a class action against Tesla in a California federal district court. Although there are numerous issues Son will face with respect to the procedural requirements of a class action, whether and how Tesla’s remote online monitoring of a driver’s actions will affect the case could be of great importance.

Son’s Allegations Regarding Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Son’s lawsuit contends that the allegedly unintended acceleration likely occurred due to defects with the complex software enabled in the Tesla models. The complaint alleges, among other things, that, “…the Model X is susceptible to Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA), in which the Model X will accelerate at full power even though the driver reports that they did not command the acceleration by pressing on the acceleration pedal, either at all or not to the degree that would call for the application of full power.” The complaint states that at least eight reports of Model X cars suddenly accelerating in this manner have been reported to the federal government, and that there are likely many more.

Tesla Argues Son Was at Fault

It is not at all uncommon in automotive defect lawsuits for the car manufacturers to put the blame on the accident victim, and that is what Tesla has done in this case as well, rightly or wrongly. What makes this situation different from other types of automotive defect complaints is Tesla’s claim that it is able to reconstruct what occurred in the moments leading up to Son’s crash via a monitoring system that connects the Model X cars via the Internet to the car maker so that it can provide constant updates to car safety.

According to Tesla, it has data which indicates that Son was driving his Model X at 6 mph when the gas pedal was suddenly pressed in 100%, which caused the car to exert torque and drive through the wall. Assuming Son’s lawsuit proceeds to a point where questions of fact regarding the accident itself become pertinent, it will be highly interesting to see how the court treats such data and how attorneys for both sides use this data.

The Use of Online Data in Automotive Defect Cases

While evidence relevant to the cause of a car crash is in theory helpful to finders of truth, this data raises questions as it is maintained by the manufacturer which has an interest in how the data is presented and perceived in a court of law. Obviously, unlike a police officer who might investigate a crash scene and report findings, Tesla is not a neutral party, and issues of how this data is extracted and potentially manipulated prior to offering it into evidence are of critical importance. Furthermore, there remain questions of how such data should be interpreted; for example, if the data shows the pedal was fully depressed, how might it be shown that the driver actually played a part in this?

Reports indicate that more and more car manufacturers will be installing onboard monitoring systems in new models, meaning the questions of how car crash evidence maintained by car manufacturers will be used in trials should proliferate in the coming years.

Experienced Automotive Defect Attorneys in the Inland Empire

With over twenty-five years experience handling some of the most high-profile automobile defect cases of our time, the automotive defect lawyers at McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP are dedicated to obtaining maximum recovery for victims who are injured in automobile accents due to defective vehicle manufacturing or design. If you or a loved one has been affected by what you believe to be a defective vehicle, take the first step in protecting your rights by contacting us today to schedule a consultation.

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