The family of Joshua Brown, the Tesla driver who was killed in an autopilot-related crash in May, has hired a personal injury attorney to investigate the accident. The accident marks the first death for Tesla's autopilot system.
Brown was driving a semi-autonomous tesla in Florida that can self-drive itself in certain situations but requires human control in others. Under the self-driving mode, the car cannot detect all interruptions on the road (like sudden obstacles) and requires constant human oversight. The accident occurred on a divided highway when a semi-truck attempted to turn left in front of Brown's car. Neither the autopilot mode nor Brown applied brakes. Brown's car traveled under the truck and struck a fence on the other side.
Tesla is just one of many companies currently testing prototypes of self-driving cars. Tesla's model is different than many of the other models because it uses a combination of autopilot and human oversight. Most of the other self-driving models attempt to operate at a high level of autonomy that does not require any involvement from the driver.
Many have critiqued Tesla's model of operation claiming that it is actually more difficult to drive safely because drivers will become distracted when the car is in semi-automatic mode, and they may forget to stay actively involved in the driving process.
The law office investigating the case, Landskroner Grieco Merriman, is involved with other clients who have been injured while using Tesla's autopilot feature. They are investigating the accident to see if Brown's family has a personal injury claim. Brown was known to be a big fan of Tesla, and many speculated that his family would not sue the company.
Tesla publicly announced the crash last month, though it occurred in May. Stockholders were upset with the company when they discovered that regulators were investigating the incident 11 days before the company sold $2 billion worth of stock. The crash was also not disclosed when the company bid to take over SolarCity, an energy services company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation on Monday to see if the company waited too long to notify shareholders about the death.
This month, a Tesla autopilot car was involved in another crash. The car did not detect a wood stake in the road, and a front tire was ripped apart and destroyed. The driver of the car was not injured, but the car was totaled. A Tesla spokesman said the driver was using the car on an undivided mountain road when the car was designed for use on divided highways with slow traffic.
Tesla's CEO Elon Musk tweeted in response to uneasy investors that one death was “not material” to the company's shareholders because once the autopilot is perfected, it could save over 1 million lives a year.
So far, Tesla has not faced lawsuits over accidents from self-driving cars.