Updated Apr 8, 2024 - Business

Tesla settles fatal Autopilot crash lawsuit

Luxurious interior on a Tesla Model X full electric luxury crossover SUV car with a large touch screen and dashboard screen on display at Brussels Expo on January 10, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.

The interior of a Tesla Model X. Photo: Sjoerd Van Der Wal/Getty Images

Tesla settled a lawsuit concerning the 2018 crash death of an Apple engineer in Northern California, court documents showed Monday.

The big picture: The case that was set to go to trial this week would have brought scrutiny to Tesla's Autopilot that CEO Elon Musk sees as a key part of the electric vehicle company's EV charging standard, and he's offered to license the driver assistance system to other car companies.

  • Tesla faces several lawsuits concerning Autopilot, but this case appears to be the first time the company has settled a case related to its semi-autonomous driving software.

Zoom in: The details of the settlement in regards to the death of 38-year-old Walter Huang were not revealed in the filings confirming the settlement in state court in San Jose, California.

Context: The lawsuit alleged that Tesla's Autopilot was defective and caused the death of Huang, who was from Foster City, California.

  • Tesla said the father of two was distracted when his 2017 Tesla Model X hit a highway barrier in Mountain View, California, some 39 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Zoom out: A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found probable causes of the crash were Autopilot and "the driver's lack of response due to distraction likely" from a cellphone game and "overreliance on the Autopilot partial driving system."

  • Representatives for Tesla and also the law firm representing Huang's family did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.

Flashback: Musk announced in a May 2022 post to X, then known as Twitter, on Tesla: "We will never surrender/settle an unjust case against us, even if we will probably lose."

Between the lines: "It is striking to me that Tesla decided to go this far publicly and then settle," said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina with expertise in autonomous vehicle law, per Reuters.

  • "What this does do, though, is it says to other attorneys, we might settle. We might not always fight it. That is the signal."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context and comment from professor Bryant Walker Smith.

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