The family of a man who died in a fiery Mountain View, Calif., crash involving a Tesla Inc. Model X in autopilot mode has hired lawyers to “explore legal options,” a San Francisco law firm said Wednesday.
The family intends to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Tesla TSLA, -1.21% , according to a Minami Tamaki LLP blog post. A preliminary review has uncovered complaints from other Tesla drivers of “navigational errors” by Tesla’s suite of driver-assistance systems, according to the law firm.
“The firm believes Tesla’s Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused [Walter] Huang’s death, despite Tesla’s apparent attempt to blame the victim of this terrible tragedy,” the firm said. Huang is survived by a wife and two children, according to the law firm.
Autopilot “may have misread the lane lines on the roadway, failed to detect the concrete median, failed to brake the car, and drove the car into the median,” the firm said.
Tesla has said the autopilot mode was engaged at the time of the crash, and the SUV’s systems showed the driver had his hands off the wheel for six seconds before striking a highway barrier, but took no action.
“According to the family, Mr. Huang was well aware that Autopilot was not perfect and, specifically, he told them it was not reliable in that exact location, yet he nonetheless engaged Autopilot at that location,” a Tesla spokeswoman said in a statement. “The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so.”
“The fundamental premise of both moral and legal liability is a broken promise, and there was none here,” the statement read. Autopilot requires drivers to be alert and keep hands on the wheel, and if the system detects hands off it provides visual and sound alerts, which happened several times on Huang’s drive that day, the company said.
The March 23 crash and subsequent vehicle fire are under scrutiny by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB has said it was “unhappy” with Tesla’s decision to disclose details it gleaned from the vehicle’s log in earlier blog posts.
The NTSB is investigating two other crashes involving Tesla vehicles, including a battery fire in Lake Forest, Calif., that occurred after the driver lost control and ran into his garage, according to a Reuters report on Wednesday.
Huang’s family may also file a lawsuit against the California Transportation Department since the concrete highway median at that stretch of the road was missing its crash attenuator guard, and Caltrans failed to replace the guard after an earlier crash. Tesla has called out the missing piece of equipment repeatedly in blog posts addressing the crash.
“The lack of a guard potentially increased Huang’s injuries,” Minami Tamaki said.
Tesla shares on Thursday fell 1.9% amid gains for the major benchmarks. The stock is down 0.6% in the past 12 months, which compares with a 14% gain for the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.90% and a 19% advance for the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.17% .