A California family that lost a 15-year-old boy when a Tesla hit its pickup truck is suing the automaker, claiming that its Autopilot system was partly responsible for the fatal collision. According to a report in The New York Times, Benjamin Maldonado and his teen son were heading back from a soccer tournament on a California freeway in August 2019 when a truck slowed down in front of them. Maldonado flicked his turn signal and moved right, and within seconds, his Ford Explorer SUV was struck by a Tesla Model 3 going about 60 mph on Autopilot.
A six-second video captured by Tesla, with the data, recorded showing that neither Autopilot nor the driver slowed the vehicle until a fraction of a second before the crash
. Jovani, Maldonado’s 15-year-old son, was sitting in the front passenger seat and was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. When the collision occurred, Jovani was thrown from the Ford and died, according to a police report. The Maldonados have sued Tesla, saying its Autopilot system is defective.
This is not the first time Tesla’s Autopilot system has been scrutinized. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has nearly 30 active investigations into Autopilot-related crashes. At least three Tesla drivers have died since 2016 in crashes in which Autopilot was engaged and failed to detect obstacles in the roadway. This list does not include the crash that killed Jovani Maldonado.
An expert who reviewed data and video from the crash that killed Jovani said Autopilot might have failed to brake for the Explorer because the Tesla’s cameras were facing the sun or were confused by the truck ahead of the Explorer. The Tesla was also equipped with a radar sensor, but the expert said that doesn’t seem to have helped in this case.
History of Problems
In many cases, Tesla has blamed drivers of its cars, saying that they failed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road while using Autopilot. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has completed investigations into Autopilot crashes, has said the system lacks safeguards to prevent misuse and does not effectively monitor drivers. Officials say similar systems offered by General Motors, Ford, and other automakers use cameras to track drivers’ eyes and issue warnings when they look away from the road. Autopilot does not track drivers’ eyes and monitors only if their hands are on the steering wheel.
In fact, the system continues operating even if drivers have their hands on the steering wheel for just a few seconds at a time. Tesla is facing several lawsuits, including one filed in Florida in April regarding a 2019 crash in which a Tesla Model S with Autopilot engaged failed to stop at a T-intersection and crashed into another vehicle parked on a shoulder, killing a 22-year-old. Another suit was filed in California in May by Darel Kyle, 55, who suffered serious spinal cord injuries when a Tesla under Autopilot control rear-ended the van he was driving.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or has lost a loved one in a Tesla Autopilot crash, you may be able to receive compensation for your losses. An experienced auto defect lawyer will be able to help you better understand your legal rights and options.