Tesla’s Autopilot blamed in lawsuit for fatal accident in Japan

Edvard Pettersson

Tesla Inc. was sued by the widow and the daughter of a 44-year-old Japanese man who was killed when a Model X operating on Autopilot crashed into a group of people standing on the side of an expressway near Tokyo.

The driver of the Tesla had dozed off shortly before the crash, and when another vehicle ahead of him changed lanes to avoid the group, the Model X accelerated and ran into them, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in San Jose, California. Tesla is based in nearby Palo Alto.’

A Tesla Model X is shown.

The accident was the result of flaws in Tesla’s autopilot system, including inadequate monitoring of whether the driver is alert and a lack of safeguards against unforeseen traffic situations, according to the complaint. Tesla’s autopilot system has been involved in other fatal accidents, such as a 2018 crash in Mountain View, California, when a Model X driven on autopilot slammed into a concrete barrier.

“If Tesla’s past behavior of blaming its vehicles’ drivers is any example, Tesla likely will portray this accident as the sole result of a drowsy, inattentive driver in order to distract from the obvious shortcomings of its automated driver assistance technology,” the widow and daughter of Yoshihiro Umeda said in the complaint.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Umeda’s family sued Tesla for a defective design, failing to warn customers, negligence and wrongful death.

Umeda was with a group of motorcyclists who were standing behind a van at the far right side of the Tomei Expressway following an earlier traffic collision. According to the complaint, it’s the first Tesla Autopilot-related pedestrian fatality.

The case is Umeda v. Tesla Inc., 5:20-cv-2926, U.S. District Court, Nothern District of California (San Jose).