MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KTVU) - Tesla is facing a wrongful death lawsuit as the family of an Apple engineer who died when his Model X accelerated and crashed into a highway barrier on US Highway 101 says the company's software is not safe.
Walter Huang’s Tesla slammed into a highway barrier in Mountain view in March of 2018. The 38-year-old left behind a wife and two young children. His widow, Sevonne Huang, collapsed in tears at a news conference on Wednesday after recounting the events that led to her family's greatest tragedy: The death of her husband and father of her 4- and 7-year-old children.
“I miss him a lot,” she said. “Not just me, but many of his friends miss him."
When Huang was driving his Model X, he slammed into the barrier in the gore point while its driver assist – the equivalent of Autopilot - feature was on.
Passersby helped pull him out of the car before it burst into flames. But Huang later died from his injuries.
According to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board on the crash, federal investigators found: "The vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel in the six seconds before the crash." The NTSB also found that the “Tesla’s speed increased [as it approached the concrete barrier] - from 62 to 70.8 mph. There was no braking or evasive steering detected prior to impact."
His family's attorney Mark Fong is arguing that Tesla's driver assist - or Autopilot software - is to blame.
“Mrs. Huang lost her husband, and two children lost their father because Tesla is beta testing its Autopilot software on live drivers,” Fong said. “The Huang family wants to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other drivers using Tesla vehicles or any semi-autonomous vehicles.”
Telsa had no comment on Wednesday about the lawsuit. But last year, days after the crash, company representatives tried to defend Tesla. In a blog post from March 2018, titled "What we know about last week's accident," the auto maker defended the safety of its autopilot technology saying, "owners have driven this same stretch of highway with autopilot engaged roughly 85,000 times" since 2015," adding that their vehicles have never been involved in a wreck like this.
In that blog post, Tesla also said a missing concrete barrier may have been to blame for the severity of the crash. The preliminary NTSB report makes no mention of the barrier being a factor. There’s no word on whether they’re expected to have a final report on what caused the crash.