The family of a driver killed in a Tesla car crash has hired law firm Minami Tamaki LLP to explore legal options, the law firm said on Wednesday, adding the Autopilot feature in the electric carmaker's vehicle probably caused his death.
Last month, Walter Huang died in a crash and vehicle fire in a Tesla Model X near Mountain View, Calif., prompting investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board. The agencies are also investigating the battery fire that followed the crash.
Tesla Inc. later said the car had activated its Autopilot system, raising new questions about the semi-autonomous system that handles some driving tasks. The company said vehicle logs from the accident showed no action had been taken by Huang soon before the crash and that he had received earlier warnings to put his hands on the wheel.
The NTSB confirmed on Wednesday that it has two other pending investigations of other Tesla crashes, including a probe of an August 2017 Tesla battery fire in Lake Forest, Calif., that occurred after an owner lost control and ran into his garage. That fire probe had not previously been reported.
"We're really more looking at the fire aspects," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told Reuters, saying that the battery continued to ignite even after it was loaded onto a truck.
The law firm said its preliminary review suggested the Autopilot was defective and had uncovered complaints by other Tesla drivers of navigational errors by the feature.
"(Our) preliminary review indicates that the navigation system of the Tesla may have misread the lane lines on the roadway, failed to detect the concrete median, failed to brake the car, and drove the car into the median," Minami said.
Tesla, meanwhile, placed blame for a fatal crash on the driver, hours after the family hired its law firm.
The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, the electric-car maker said in an emailed statement.
“The only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so,” the company said. “The fundamental premise of both moral and legal liability is a broken promise, and there was none here. Tesla is extremely clear that Autopilot requires the driver to be alert and have hands on the wheel. This reminder is made every single time Autopilot is engaged.”
The statement is Tesla’s third since the incident. In a March 31 blog post, the company said computer logs recovered from Huang’s Model X showed he didn’t have his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the accident.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.