A fatal car accident involving a Tesla vehicle in Florida has prompted Congressional action and a response from the car company. Tesla admits that its vehicles were defective, but the automaker says that the issue is with the brakes and not the controversial Autopilot feature.
According to a staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee, which is looking into the fatal crash in Florida that allegedly involved a non-functioning Autopilot, the automatic brakes are “separate and distinct” from the Autopilot feature that controls steering and velocity. In addition to defending the Autopilot, Tesla company executives urged lawmakers not to impede the development of autonomous vehicles, even if people are killed while the technology is refined.
In a parallel proceeding, Tesla will turn over the first set of documents related to the Autopilot and the fatal crash to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The automaker, which some analysts describe as more of a technology company, is scheduled to release financial figures from the second quarter later this month.
Defective Automobiles Can Cause Serious Car Accidents
The idea expressed by Tesla officials that peoples’ lives should take a back seat to technological development sounds eerily similar to the Ford Pinto case from the 1970s, which was perhaps the most infamous defective car in American history prior to the recent Takata airbag scandal.
Facing intense competition from both American and foreign cars that were small, cheap, and very popular during the Energy Crisis, Ford set out to design and build a car that was even smaller and cheaper. To cut down on both weight and costs, designers put the Pinto’s gas tank next to the rear axle. This meant that the gas tank could rupture and possibly explode even in relatively low-speed crashes.
Ford did a cost-benefit study which determined that it would cost $11 per car to make the gas tank safe, for a total price tag of $137 million. Since that total far exceeded the expected legal costs of $49.5 million to settle an estimated 2,100 burn cases (including 180 burn-related deaths), the company elected not to make the vehicles safe and instead just paid their lawyers.
Personal Injury Claims involving Defective Products
To prevail in a defective product lawsuit, such as one involving a defective auto part or a dangerous drug, the plaintiff must show that there was one of two types of defects:
- Manufacturing Defect: If the Pinto was safely designed but a flaw in the manufacturing or shipping process rendered the device unsafe, the manufacturer is liable for damages.
- Design Defect: The Pinto was defectively designed because the gas can was in a dangerous location and the designers knew about the safety issue.
In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff must also prove that there was a reasonable alternative design which was available, safe, and rejected by the product makers.
Defective products injure or kill thousands of consumers every year. For a free consultation with experienced attorneys who stand up for victims, contact Proner & Proner. Our main office is conveniently located across from Grand Central Terminal in New York City.