RIVERSIDE COUNTY, California: In his opening statement this week in the first U.S. trial over allegations that a car autopilot feature caused a death, Jonathan Michaels, a lawyer representing victims of a fatal crash of a Tesla Model 3 car, blamed the company's Autopilot driver assistant system.
"A car company should never sell consumers experimental vehicles," he stressed.
In response, an attorney for Tesla said the crash resulted from "a classic human error."
The trial, which is being held in Riverside County Superior Court, California, and is expected to last a few weeks, stems from a civil lawsuit alleging the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee's Model 3 to suddenly veer off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour in 2019.
The crash killed Lee, 37, and seriously injured his two passengers, including an eight-year-old boy.
The lawsuit filed by the passengers and Lee's estate accused Tesla of knowing that its Autopilot and other safety systems were defective, but it still sold the car.
In response, Tesla said its Autopilot driver assistant system is not designed to make a sharp turn on a highway.
Michaels said that when Lee bought Tesla's "full self-driving capability package" for $6,000 for his Model 3 in 2019, the system was in "beta," meaning it was not yet ready for release.
Michaels said the car's steering wheel made a sharp, 43-degree turn on a freeway, adding that "excessive steering command is a known issue at Tesla."
The electric vehicle (EV) maker denied the accusations, claiming that its Autopilot system puts "guardrails" on the angle of the steering wheel at high speeds, making it capable of steering only a little bit left or right on highways.
It also blamed the driver for being intoxicated and claimed that it was unclear whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash.