Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Family of boy, 15, who was thrown from a Ford Explorer and died when Tesla Model 3 traveling at 60mph on autopilot crashed into the car sues the electric car giant

  • Jovani Maldonado was riding in the passenger’s seat of his family’s Ford pickup in August 2019 when the Tesla Model 3 rear-ended it, sending him flying
  • The Maldonado’s were traveling on a California freeway and were changing lanes when the Tesla crashed into them 
  • At least 10 people have been killed in eight accidents involving Tesla’s vaunted Autopilot feature since 2016
  • Regulators have so far resisted forcing the company to disable the feature
  • Several lawsuits have been filed against Tesla in 2021 for accidents involving Autopilot 

By Peter Belfiore For Dailymail.Com

Published: 02:31, 6 July 2021 | Updated: 07:18, 6 July 2021

The family of 15-year-old Jovani Maldonado (pictured) has sued Tesla, saying its Autopilot system was at fault when in 2019 a Model 3 rear-ended his father’s Ford Explorer pickup truck on a California highway, sending the boy flying to his death 

The family of a 15-year-old boy who was killed in a 2019 crash involving a Tesla Model 3 on Autopilot has sued the electric car giant.  

Jovani Maldonado was traveling with his father Benjamin in the passenger’s seat their Ford Explorer pickup truck on California Interstate 880 on August 24, 2019 when the Tesla reared-ended the truck, sending it rolling. 

Jovani, who was not wearing his seatbelt at the time, was thrown from the vehicle and found lying facedown near the crash in a pool of blood, according to police reports. 

The driver of the Tesla, nor the car’s autopilot feature stopped until a fraction of a second before hitting the Explorer, just four miles from Tesla’s main car factory in Fremont, according to data the car recorded.  

Now, the crash is the subject of a lawsuit against the electric car giant as the reliability of its autopilot feature has been called into question, the New York Times reported. 

‘We are living day by day. There is so much sadness inside,’ the distraught father told the outlet. ‘We take family walks and try to do things together like going to church. There is a massive hole in the family,’ 

At least 10 people have been killed in eight accidents in which Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged since 2016, according to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency. 

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Camera footage from the Model 3 shows the moments before the car rear-ends the Explorer. The Maldonado family’s lawsuit is one of several involving crashes where Tesla’s Autopilot system was engaged 

The Maldonado’s lawsuit is one of several that have been filed against Tesla in 2021 alone, with one filed in April involving a Tesla Model S that in 2019 failed to stop at an intersection in Florida, and crashed into a Chevrolet Tahoe stopped on a shoulder, killing 22-year-old Naibel Leon, the Times reported.

Another was filed in May by Darel Kyle, 55, who says he suffered a severe spinal injury when an Autopilot Tesla rear-ended the van he was driving, the Times also reported.

Filed by Benjamin Maldonado and his wife, Adriana Garcia, their suit alleges that Autopilot is defective, and also names the driver of the Tesla, Romeo Lagman Yalung and his wife Vilma, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat as defendants.

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

The Maldonado’s lawsuit is among the latest instances highlighting crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot. Investigations have been opened into 30 Tesla crashes involving 10 deaths since 2016 where system was in use. Pictured: The remains of a Tesla vehicle are seen after it crashed in The Woodlands, Texas, April 17, 2021 that caused the issue to gain new attention

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has defended the Autopilot system, saying it has reduced traffic crashes when it is in use 

They were not injured in the crash, according to police reports.  

In court filings Tesla has reportedly not responded to allegations of failures in the Autopilot system, but has instead blamed Yalung for the crash.   

How does Tesla’s Autopilot work? 

Autopilot uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to see and sense the environment around the car. 

The sensor and camera suite provides drivers with an awareness of their surroundings that a driver alone would not otherwise have. 

A powerful onboard computer processes these inputs in a matter of milliseconds to help what the company say makes driving ‘safer and less stressful.’

Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. 

It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.

Before enabling Autopilot, driver must agree to ‘keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times’ and to always ‘maintain control and responsibility for your car.’ 

Once engaged, if insufficient torque is applied, Autopilot will also deliver an escalating series of visual and audio warnings, reminding drivers to place their hands on the wheel. 

If drivers repeatedly ignore the warnings, they are locked out from using Autopilot during that trip.

Any of Autopilot’s features can be overridden at any time by steering or applying the brakes.

The Autopilot does not function well in poor visibility.

‘The police faulted the Tesla driver — not the car — for his inattention and his driving at an unsafe speed,’ Tesla attorney Ryan McCarthy wrote, according to the Times. 

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The carmaker’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk has defended the feature, tweeting in April that cars with Autopilot engaged have a 10-times lower chance of a crash than a regular vehicle, citing the company’s crash data.

Just last week he tweeted: ‘accidents on Autopilot are becoming rarer.’

However, in communications with the California DMV in March, the company admitted that Musk’s tweets have overstated the capability’s of the company’s Autopilot system, according to documents obtained by Plainsite.  

So far the NHTSA has resisted forcing Tesla to disable the Autopilot systems on its cars but in June began requiring all companies to report crashes with vehicles that have similar systems.  

In the case of the Maldonados, the Model 3 was traveling at 69 miles per hour, and increased its speed to 70 just before the impact before slowing down in the final second. 

Video recorded from the Tesla shows Maldonado turning on his right-turn blinker and changing lanes as the Model 3 continues forward. 

In the final moments Maldonado appears to try and swerve back into his original lane as the Tesla makes contact.   

Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous driving technology speculated the Autopilot could have been confused by another truck ahead of Maldonado’s Explorer or because its cameras were facing the sun, the Times reported.

The car’s radar system, he said also appeared to fail to recognize the Explorer.  

Maldonado described his son as an outgoing boy, who had planned to go to college, become a professional soccer player and buy his parents a house.

‘Like any grateful child, he wanted to take care of his parents like they did for him,’  he told the Times.   

History of fatal crashes tied to Tesla Autopilot

January 20, 2016 in China: Gao Yaning, 23, died when the Tesla Model S he was driving slammed into a road sweeper on a highway near Handan, a city about 300 miles south of Beijing.

Chinese media reported that Autopilot was engaged.

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Joshua D.

Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio died in an Autopilot crash in May 2016

May 7, 2016 in Williston, Florida: Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio died when cameras in his Tesla Model S failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky.

The NTSB found that the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way and a car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation were the probable cause of the crash.

The NTSB also noted that Tesla Autopilot permitted the car driver to become dangerously disengaged with driving. A DVD player and Harry Potter movies were found in the car.

March 23, 2018 in Mountain View, California: Apple software engineer Walter Huang, 38, died in a crash on U.S.

Highway 101 with the Autopilot on his Tesla engaged.

The vehicle accelerated to 71 mph seconds before crashing into a freeway barrier, federal investigators found. 

The NTSB, in a preliminary report on the crash, also said that data shows the Model X SUV did not brake or try to steer around the barrier in the three seconds before the crash in Silicon Valley. 

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Crash scene photos show the wreck on March 23, 2018 in Mountain View, California

March 1, 2019 in Delray, Florida: Jeremy Banner, 50, died when his 2018 Tesla Model 3 slammed into a semi-truck.

NTSB investigators said Banner turned on the autopilot feature about 10 seconds before the crash, and the autopilot did not execute any evasive maneuvers to avoid the crash. 

April 17, 2021 in Houston, Texas 

A Tesla smashed into a tree and burst into flames in Texas, resulting in the deaths of two men – the car’s owner Doctor William Varner, and his pal Everette Talbot.

Police had said it was apparent that there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash in the wealthy The Woodlands neighborhood of Houston, on April 17.

But Tesla had refuted police’s claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested that someone was likely in the driver’s seat. 

Varner, 59, and Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S  – bought second-hand off eBay in January – smashed into a tree and burst into flames. 

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Dr.

William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames 

May 5, Los Angeles, California  

Family of boy killed in Tesla autopilot crash sues electric car giant

Steven Michael Hendrickson, 35, was killed when his white Tesla Model 3 struck an overturned semi-truck at about 2.30am on May 5 

Steven Michael Hendrickson, 35, was killed when his white Tesla Model 3 struck an overturned semi-truck at about 2.30am on May 5. 

Before his death, the married father of two posted social media videos of himself riding in the electric vehicle without his hands on the wheel or foot on its pedal.

The crash happened on the 210 Freeway near Fontana, California – about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. 

A preliminary investigation determined that the Tesla’s partially automated driving system called Autopilot ‘was engaged’ prior to the crash.  

A spokesman added that no final conclusion had been reached on what exactly had caused the fatal crash – the 29th involving a Tesla to have been probed by federal agency the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The Mack truck, which the Tesla collided with, had crashed and overturned just five minutes earlier, blocking two lanes of the highway, according to a highway patrol report. 

 

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