LOS ANGELES, April 21 (Reuters) – Jurors in what appears to be the first trial related to a crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot feature told Reuters after the verdict on Friday that the electric-vehicle maker clearly warned that the partially automated driving software was not a self-piloted system, and that driver distraction was to blame.
A California state court jury on Friday handed Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) a sweeping win, finding that the automaker’s Autopilot feature did not fail to perform safely and awarding plaintiff Justine Hsu zero damages.
The jurors’ impressions are important because Tesla is bracing for a spate of other trials starting this year related to the semi-automated driving system, which Chief Executive Elon Musk has claimed is safer than human drivers.
While this trial’s outcome is not legally binding in those other cases, it serves as a bellwether to help Tesla and other plaintiffs’ lawyers hone their strategies, experts say.
Hsu, a resident of Los Angeles, sued the EV maker in 2020, saying her Tesla Model S swerved into a curb while it was on Autopilot and then an airbag was deployed “so violently it fractured Plaintiff’s jaw, knocked out teeth, and caused nerve damage to her face.”
Tesla denied liability for the 2019 accident.
After the verdict on Friday, juror Mitchell Vasseur, 63, told Reuters that he and his fellow jurors felt badly for Hsu, but ultimately determined that Autopilot was not at fault.
“Autopilot never confessed to be self pilot. It’s not a self-driving car,” Vasseur said. “It’s an auto assist and they were adamant about a driver needing to always be aware.”
Jury foreperson Olivia Apsher, 31, said the Autopilot system reminds drivers when they are not adequately taking control.
“It’s your vehicle,” she said. “There are audible warnings and visual warnings both for the driver, indicating that it is your responsibility.”
She said she would love to have Autopilot features in her own car but added: “The technology is something that’s assisting you and we want that message to be clear. Drivers should understand that before they sit behind and take control of the vehicle using those features.”
Donald Slavik, an attorney for Hsu, said that while he understands the jury believed his client was distracted, she only received a warning to put her hands on the wheel less than a second before the curb strike.
A Tesla representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
The trial unfolded in Los Angeles Superior Court over three weeks and featured testimony from three Tesla engineers.
Vasseur said Hsu’s accident would not have occurred if she had been more attentive, which he said was a mistake that anyone could make.
“I personally would never use autopilot,” he said. “I don’t even use cruise control.”