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Jury finds Tesla is 1% to blame for the death of a driver in the company’s first fatal accident trial

Tesla Model X.

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  • A jury said on Tuesday that Tesla was 1% responsible for a fatal car accident.
  • The six-person jury awarded the driver’s family $10.5 million in pain and suffering damages.
  • It was Tesla’s first fatal accident trial, but the carmaker faces a slew of lawsuits and probes over accidents.

A Tesla crash victim and his father were 99% at fault for a fatal car accident, a jury ruled on Tuesday.

The six-person jury ruled in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that Tesla was 1% negligent in the case. The jury allocated 90% and 9% of the blame to the driver and his father, respectively, and concluded that the driver’s parents sustained about $10.5 million in pain and suffering damages as a result of the accident.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the verdict.

The case centered around an accident from 2018, involving an 18-year-old driver who lost control of a Tesla going about 116 miles per hour and crashed into a concrete wall, killing himself and the passenger. It represents the first trial that Tesla has faced in court over a fatal accident in one of its vehicles.

The accident spawned two lawsuits against Tesla from the families of both the driver and passenger. Both sought to prove that Tesla played a role in the accident by allowing the driver, Barrett Riley, to remove a speed limiter that they’d previously installed on the vehicle. The second lawsuit, which has been brought forth by the passenger’s family, is still ongoing in Broward County Court in Florida.

The Riley’s lawsuit also claimed that the car’s battery had a defect which cause it to explode, but the claim was dismissed before the trial started.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk did not testify at the trial, though the billionaire was in contact with Riley’s family after the accident in 2018. In a series of emails the billionaire opened up about his own son’s death and told the victim’s father, James Riley, that “there is nothing worse than losing a child.” 

The family’s attorney, Curtis Miner, used Musk’s involvement to argue Tesla’s negligence. James Riley testified in the trial that Musk told him in a phone call after the accident that Tesla made a mistake when it removed the speed limiters from the vehicle, Bloomberg reported. Tesla lawyers denied the phone call took place, the publication said.

It is far from the last lawsuit the carmaker will face. Tesla faces a slurry of lawsuits and regulatory probes over accidents that have been linked to the carmaker’s Autopilot feature. Tesla is scheduled to face its first trial involving its driver assistance features in September.

Since 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened 37 investigations into accidents linked to Tesla driver assistance programs. Most recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed  on Monday that it had opened an investigation into a Tesla crash that killed a motorcyclist in 2021. 

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