Autopilot or Auto-Deception? Tesla's Self-Driving Promises Crash in Court


Tesla Faces Fraud Lawsuit Over Alleged Misrepresentation of Self-Driving Capabilities

In a significant legal development, a federal judge has ruled that Tesla, the pioneering electric vehicle manufacturer, must confront a lawsuit accusing the company of fraudulent misrepresentation regarding the self-driving capabilities of its vehicles. The decision, handed down by US District Judge Rita Lin in the Northern District of California, allows the case brought by California resident Thomas LoSavio to proceed on allegations of fraud.

LoSavio's lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, centers on claims made by Tesla and its charismatic CEO, Elon Musk, beginning in October 2016. These claims were made just months before LoSavio purchased a 2017 Tesla Model S equipped with "Enhanced Autopilot" and "Full Self-Driving Capability." The plaintiff argues that he and other consumers who bought or leased new Tesla vehicles with the company's Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) technology never received the self-driving car that Tesla had promised.

Judge Lin dismissed some of LoSavio's claims but allowed the lawsuit to move forward on two key allegations of fraud. The first allegation pertains to Tesla's representations that its vehicles have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability, and the second relates to claims that a Tesla car would be able to drive itself cross-country in the coming year. The judge found that LoSavio had plausibly and with sufficient detail alleged that he relied on these representations before purchasing his car.

The ruling also addressed the statute of limitations issue, with Judge Lin concluding that under the delayed discovery rule, the limitations period began when LoSavio had, or should have had, inquiry notice of the cause of action. LoSavio alleges that he relied on Tesla's repeated claims that software updates were the source of delay and that fixes were forthcoming, only discovering in April 2022 that he had been misled about his car having all the necessary hardware for full automation.

While Tesla had previously secured a significant victory in the case by enforcing its arbitration agreement against four plaintiffs, LoSavio had opted out of the agreement, allowing him to continue his legal battle in court. The case's progression marks a notable challenge for Tesla, which has heavily promoted its self-driving technology as a key feature of its vehicles.

As the lawsuit moves forward, it could have significant implications for Tesla and the broader self-driving car industry. The outcome may influence how automakers market and represent their autonomous driving technologies, as well as the level of transparency required when communicating the limitations of these systems to consumers.

Tesla has not yet commented on the judge's ruling, but the company is expected to vigorously defend itself against the allegations of fraud. The case is likely to be closely watched by industry experts, consumer advocates, and legal scholars as it progresses through the courts, potentially setting important precedents for the future of self-driving car litigation.