Tesla driver suggests Autopilot and email distraction are to blame for fatal accident

In what can only be described as a perplexing and controversial legal defense, a 42-year-old Tesla driver involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident is claiming that he cannot recall whether he was responsible for the death of a pedestrian. The driver, involved in an accident that led to the death of 56-year-old Cathy Ann Donovan in Minnesota, suggested that if he did hit her, it was while the vehicle was operating on Tesla’s Autopilot mode. Not only that, the driver says he was probably distracted and checking his email.

Donovan was walking her dog along a highway when she was fatally struck by a car, with evidence pointing towards the involvement of a 2022 Model X. Initial investigations strengthened the case against the driver through a combination of cellphone location data, surveillance footage, and physical evidence found at the scene, including a windshield wiper near Donovan’s body and light damage on the vehicle suspected to be involved.

Despite these findings, the driver, who fled the scene and had initially denied any involvement, later changed his story, suggesting a lapse in memory due to the potential use of Tesla’s Autopilot feature.

Court documents filed last week and reviewed by the Star Tribune reveal that the driver claimed he has no recollection of colliding with Donovan while behind the wheel of his Tesla. He suggests that, were he to have been involved in the incident, it would have occurred while the Autopilot feature was engaged, and that he was distracted from driving by activities such as checking work emails.

“[The driver] maintained that he doesn’t remember hitting Cathy Donovan with his Tesla, but if he did, he would have been alone in his Tesla driving on ‘autopilot,’ not paying attention to the road, while doing things like checking work emails,”

Court filing

The legal defense employed by the driver is certainly an interesting one, as he appears to be trying to pin the blame on Tesla, and not himself for the death of Donovan. However, it is difficult to see how this defense strategy will prove successful, considering Tesla has numerous disclaimers, including just as Autopilot is activated, that the driver must always be paying attention and be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time.

Additionally, there have been two court cases last year that have already decided that it is the driver that is responsible for the vehicle, and not the automaker that provides the driver-assist software. In the first case, which involved only injuries, a jury agreed with Tesla that driver distraction was the primary cause of the accident. The second case, which involved a fatality, a jury also sided with Tesla, finding there was no manufacturing defect in the Autopilot system.

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