Tesla victory, 'Autopilot' class action lawsuit is a no-go

A California judge grants Tesla a significant victory after ruling that a class action suit sought against the electric car manufacturer for false claims about its “self-driving” Autopilot feature can only proceed through individual arbitration.

Four Tesla owners had filed the proposed class action lawsuit against Elon Musk’s Austin-based auto manufacturer in September 2022.

But on October 2nd, and a year later, the group lost their right to file the suit due to terms and conditions listed in the sales contract they signed when originally making their car purchase through Tesla’s website, the judge ruled.

Additionally, another California civil trial involving Tesla and the controversial self-driving technology began last week.

In that trial, the automaker is being blamed for the death of a Los Angeles Tesla owner who crashed while using a beta version of its Autopilot system, also seriously injuring two passengers, one a child.

In the initial class action proposal, Tesla is accused of repeatedly misleading the public to believe that its advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) would eventually serve up a fully self-driving vehicle.

The electric vehicle (EV) maker is charged with falsely advertising the “self-driving” technology, leading Tesla owners to purchase the Autopilot feature at a costly upgrade, and then not delivering on its promise.

The quad said they paid thousands extra for the ‘optional’ feature when originally purchasing their Teslas between 2017 and 2022.

Furthermore, the group maintains that the ADAS technology is unreliable and has caused accidents, injuries, and deaths.

In February, Tesla was forced by US regulators to recall over 350,000 vehicles for faulty self-driving software. The National Highway Safety Administration said the defective software allowed Tesla cars (with the feature) to "exceed speed limits or travel through intersections in an unlawful or unpredictable manner," making them susceptible to crashing.

Tesla self-driving assistance system (ADAS)
Autonomous Tesla Model 3 car in full self-driving or autopilot mode showing the future of electric cars, from 2019. Image by Shutterstock.

In the fatal crash trial, the automaker is being blamed for the death of a 37-year-old man, whose 2019 Model 3 veered off a highway at 65 miles per hour, hitting a palm tree and bursting into flames within seconds.

This suit also claims Tesla was prematurely selling the Autopilot feature to the public – which the now-deceased owner paid $6000 for – and that the technology was untested and experimental.

The lawyers, who represent the injured passengers and the man’s estate, say the feature should have never been offered to consumers under any circumstances.

Tesla’s legal team says the crash was due to "classic human error" and argues it is still unclear if the Autopilot feature had been engaged on the vehicle before the deadly accident. The civil trial is expected to last several weeks.

Meanwhile, the latest California Northern District Court ruling is a significant win for Tesla, as it sets a legal precedent that any other class action suits against the automaker regarding the Autopilot feature will have to be resolved by arbitration, not by a court judge.

A fifth plaintiff’s case against Tesla was also dismissed over the weekend. The judge ruled that even though that person did not sign an arbitration agreement with Tesla at the time of purchase, like the others, they waited too long to file.

Tesla has been testing its more advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) system since 2020, with full public backing from Musk.

According to a July Motortrend report, the Autopilot system is now standard on all new Tesla vehicles at no charge. Enhanced Autopilot can be added at the time of purchase for $6,000, and the FSD system can be added to any Tesla model for $15,000.

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