Tesla Autopilot Faces Pressure From Lawsuit-Happy Litigators


Tesla Autopilot

Tesla Autopilot


On Christmas day, 2015, TeslaMondo predicted that Americans would soon start suing Tesla for inflicting Autopilot on the poor public. That same post introduced y’all to Sean Kane, the “safety advocate” who poses as a dry analyst and often gets nose-picking reporters to fall for his ruse — even though he’s on the plaintiff payroll.

Well, it took a little over a year, but here comes the litigation. The lawyer is Steve Berman as usual. He pursued, with the emphasis on the “sued” part, the farcical sudden-acceleration cases against Toyota despite the NHTSA and even NASA finding zero defects. Toyota predictably settled many of those cases out of court. Ka-ching! Now that Tesla has money, it’s time to grab some. Stand and deliver, Mr. Musk. That’s not what Tesla intends to do though. The automaker issued this statement on the matter:

“This lawsuit is a disingenuous attempt to secure attorney’s fees posing as a legitimate legal action, which is evidenced by the fact that the suit misrepresents many facts. Many of the features this suit claims are “unavailable” are in fact available, with more updates coming every month.”

“We have always been transparent about the fact that Enhanced Autopilot software is a product that would roll out incrementally over time, and that features would continue to be introduced as validation is completed, subject to regulatory approval. Furthermore, we have never claimed our vehicles already have functional “full self-driving capability”, as our website has stated in plain English for all potential customers that “it is not possible to know exactly when each element of the functionality described above will be available, as this is highly dependent on local regulatory approval.”

“The inaccurate and sensationalistic view of our technology put forth by this group is exactly the kind of misinformation that threatens to harm consumer safety.”

And, of course, here comes Sean Kane, right on cue. Are Kane and Berman talking to each other behind the scenes, plotting a little PR campaign to dial in some pressure on Tesla? You can bet on it. Look for some juicy sound bites from “safety advocate” Kane.

Further reading: Part One.

*Editor’s Note: This and other Tesla-related posts appear on TeslaMondo. Check it out here.

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21 Comments on "Tesla Autopilot Faces Pressure From Lawsuit-Happy Litigators"

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Welcome Silicon valley to the auto-industry.

That’s why GM et al don’t release products at the pace you might want.

I really think the Techies in Silicon Valley are asking for trouble when they try to test self driving cars with bumper to bumper urban traffic in San Fransisco and humans walking around.

They will have objective data showing the vehicles are massively safer than average AND they will have detailed information on the crash scene. There is actually very little chance this becomes a massive legal issue.

There are many reasons why incumbent firms release products the way the do. Obviously, a large decision point is what the release does to current investments. There is ample evidence that management in incumbent firms nearly always massively overvalue current sunk costs during technology transitions and way too often blow the future saving the past.

I really think the Techies in Silicon Valley are in for a rude awakening when someone gets hit by one of these cars or it blows though a stoplight and plows into someone.

I notice as if now every self driving car accident that has happened they have said it was human error.

But I really would like to see what happens when their is no human in the passenger seat to take the blame on.

I really think with 40,000 pound big rigs and tractor trailers something like that shouldn’t be unattended to.

As if now they do have trains that can operate with out drivers but they have drivers in them to avoid something like that being unattended to.

Since this isn’t “InsideAUTONOMOUS DRIVING”, we should recognize the sad truth that electric drive, especially insofaras Tesla is concerned, has hitched its wagon to a technical cult. Maybe they had to do it because gas prices fell, but why aren’t they learning when to stop over-promising?

Then comes this line “misinformation that threatens to harm consumer safety.”, and the arrogance really shows through. So many of us are patient, enthusiastic, beta testers. It gets insulting when, for all the help you give adoption of not-ready-for-prime-time technology, you get a message from the brand that sold it to you, that “you are more dangerous than your car”.

Anyone got an update on Mission E? Did they scrap the touch-screen?

“you are more dangerous than your car”.

I’m sorry if the truth offends you. Should we sugar-coat that for you?

The NHTSA has already stated that Tesla cars with AutoSteer merely installed have an accident rate nearly 40% lower than those which don’t. Since we know that not all cars which have AutoSteer installed have it activated, this means the actual reduction in accidents when AutoSteer is active is even better than 40%!

So yes, Tesla is absolutely right: Any false claim publicly made to support frivolous lawsuits which threatens to slow the pace at which Tesla enables cars for autonomous driving, “is exactly the kind of misinformation that threatens to harm consumer safety.”

Everyone on the road will benefit from advancements in semi-autonomous driving software. Even those who, like you pjwood1, will never willingly use it. Because it will make other cars safer to those on the road… including you.

“The NHTSA has already stated that Tesla cars with AutoSteer merely installed have an accident rate nearly 40% lower than those which don’t.”

1. That is a terrible comparison. Comparing any particular model with any particular features to the overall market is trying to spin facts.

2. Anyone can pick one of those models from IIHS study that has ZERO fatality to show that one of those model with NON autopilot has FAR LESS fatalities than Tesla with autopilot. 0 is always less than 1.

3. If anyone truly wants to make a case, then they should compare the death rate per miles with Autopilot engaged vs. autopilot NOT engaged on the same model car driving by the same person over time.

MMF — please go read the report. It is available here in complete text:


1) The comparison is between Tesla Model S before AP1 vs. Tesla Model S with AP1. It is not what you stated. Your assumptions were wrong.

2) Since you were wrong on #1, your #2 is ACTUALLY the only example of comparing very different cars to each other. You are yourself doing what you said shouldn’t be done in your #1 point. Which of course, would be wrong, like you pointed out….

3) That wouldn’t be a valid comparison either, because you cannot engage AP in all situations, on all streets. You would be comparing fatality rates on slow city streets vs. fatality rates at highway speeds.

MMF: No part of what you said there makes sense. Reporting what the NHTSA said certainly isn’t “spin”. It’s just a fact. In fact, I was careful not to claim this is “proof” of overall increased safety from semi-autonomous systems in general. But it is one data point, and that data point… er, points pretty strongly in the direction of increased safety. Also, MMF, you are flat wrong to say that we should consider only fatal accident statistics, for two reasons: 1. The goal of autonomous driving should be an overall reduction of the accident rate. A lower overall accident rate will automatically lead to a lower rate of fatal accidents. 2. Counting all accidents, not just fatal ones, will help avoid the problem of a data sample too small to be representative. There are already arguments here in the comment threads about the usefulness of the single data point of one (1) confirmed fatality using Tesla Autopilot, and in the past there were similar arguments over a mere three fires in Tesla cars. (And obviously this should not be confined to just Teslae.) The more data we can use for analysis, the more potential we have for actually meaningful… Read more »
(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

Law suites…..
It’s the American way!

Remember Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants?

“McDonald’s coffee was defective, claiming it was too hot”

Dump 180 degree liquid on your groin and then tell us it’s not too hot.

I’m really tired of hearing about this case. There are plenty of legitimate frivolous lawsuits without bringing up that poor woman.

Here are a few facts…not that those matter any more.

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous

Blah blah blah…..

So at what point should people start taking responsibility for their actions?

Rosenberg v. Google

It truly astounds me that people actually defend this woman’s actions, and claim that McDonald’s was at fault for her deciding to put the coffee cup between her legs and pull the top off while in a moving car!

And let’s remember that the lawsuit didn’t even claim McDonald’s didn’t put a warning label on the top which she removed; the lawsuit merely claimed the warning wasn’t sufficiently large!

Because, you know, she had no way of knowing that coffee served in a styrofoam cup is served scalding hot, and she really needed that warning label to jump out at her.

Adults should be treated as adults, and not as children. Adults should be held responsible for their own actions; children in many cases should not. Personally, I think adults should be treated as adults… and not as children.

Too bad you disagree. 🙁

Not trying to make this Inside Hot Coffee, but the reason that McDonald’s lost the lawsuit had more to do with the fact that the court felt that McDonald’s did nothing to address consumer’s concerns from multiple other complaints. If McDonald’s would have addressed those concerns in some fashion beforehand, the lawsuit probably would not have happened. As it stands, McDonald’s made changes to the design of the cup after the lawsuit that had they done it before would have probably kept them from losing the lawsuit.

Yes, the jury gave in to the appeal to emotion, the appeal to “Oh look at this poor victim, who can we blame for something bad happening to her? Oh, there’s a big rich corporation, let’s blame them and give lots of their money to this poor victim!” Yeah, appeals to emotion can be very powerful. That’s why they so often work, even when they’re based on irrational or wrong-headed thinking. The jury gave into its base emotions rather than come to the correct, rational decision, which would be “This woman did something very stupid, did something every adult should know better than to do, and she has no one to blame but herself.” The fallacy your argument is base on is very obvious: If McDonald’s had that bigger, brighter warning label on the lid that they now have, would that have stopped her from pulling the lid off? Of course not! She knew it was scalding hot; she went ahead and risked injury to herself anyway. There is no rational reason to think a bigger warning on the lid would have made any difference to her actions. She knew it was a stupid and risky thing to do, and… Read more »

As I understand it, the jury award against McD’s for coffee was based on the temperature the coffee was served at. The lawyers argued that McD’s knew there were substantial risks of scalding due to the high temperature it served coffee and that those scalding risks were compounded by serving it in to go containers where the beverage would be more likely to spill. They thus argued that serving overhot coffee was negligent since scalding was an expected result because regardless of labeling spills had to be expected. Regardless what anybody might think of the merits, this would not be an argument to emotion.

And yet another example of why most people should never talk about the McDonald’s coffee case.

1) The car was STOPPED. It was not moving, and she was a passenger.

2) McDonald’s coffee was served SIGNIFICANTLY hotter than competing chains. In fact, it was so much hotter than even short exposure caused major, life-threatening burns. It was served at a temperature that was literally too hot to drink without causing burns to your mouth and throat.

3) Even after more than 700 people had contacted McDonald’s with serious injuries resulting from minor spills, McDonald’s management was completely indifferent.

4) The plaintiff in the case above originally asked McDonald’s to cover her out-of-pocket expenses, or about $2000. McDonald’s counteroffer was $800. It stayed at $800 throughout the rest of the proceedings.

5) The original award was $200,000 in compensatory damages (reduced to $160,000 because the jury thought she was 20% at fault) and $2.7 million – or two days’ worth of McDonald’s national coffee sales – in punitive damages, specifically because of the callous disregard for serious injury McDonald’s had shown towards the hundreds of people who had contacted them. (The punitive damages were reduced to $480,000 on appeal.)

“1) The car was STOPPED. It was not moving, and she was a passenger.” Okay, so what she did was slightly less stupid than I suggested. The result, however, is the same: Her own stupid and exceedingly foolish actions resulted in her injury. “2) McDonald’s coffee was served SIGNIFICANTLY hotter than competing chains. In fact, it was so much hotter than even short exposure caused major, life-threatening burns. It was served at a temperature that was literally too hot to drink without causing burns to your mouth and throat.” You mean, the ambulance-chasing lawyer claimed it was a “life-threatening” injury. You don’t get third-degree burns from a cup of lower-than-boiling temperature water-based liquid spilled on you. Shame on you for swallowing everything that ambulance-chaser said! If the burns really did require as much intervention by doctors as claimed, then that’s an indication of this elderly person’s fragile health. If her health really was that fragile, then she should have been doubly careful not to expose herself to injury… which means she was doubly foolish for doing what she did. Why should McDonald’s be blamed for her astounding level of foolishness and stupidity? This woman wasn’t merely an adult, she was… Read more »

Perhaps you should learn just a bit more about what kind of burns happen at different temperatures.

McDonald’s operations manual required the franchisee to hold its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (and for the record, water does boil at those temperatures). Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns in three to seven seconds. At the trial, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation (the leading scholarly publication in the specialty) testified that this risk of harm is unacceptable.

The jurors (who, unlike you, actually heard all the facts of the case) said the case was about “callous disregard for the safety of the people.” Another commented that “the facts were so overwhelmingly against the company.” Even the trial judge that reduced the punitive award said that McDonald’s conduct has been “willful, wanton, and reckless.”

McDonald’s conduct in this case is the textbook example of a unaccountable megacorp who thinks they are above the law. But I guess if you just hate ambulance chasers that much, defending the profit margin of a soulless corporate behemoth is the better option!

Q: What is the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?

A: One is a scum-sucking, slimy bottom feeder; the other is a fish.

To be fair, probably only a small minority of all lawyers fit that description, but if what this article says is true, then Sean Kane certainly does.