Utah woman sues Tesla over crash while car was in autopilot

A Utah woman who crashed her Tesla Model S into a Unified Fire Authority pickup in May when it was set to autopilot mode is suing the car manufacturer. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Monico Garza/SLCScanner

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 5, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — A Utah woman who crashed her Tesla Model S into a Unified Fire Authority pickup in May when it was set to autopilot mode is suing the car manufacturer.

Heather P. Lommatzsch alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that when she bought the car in July 2016: “Based on conversations with Tesla sales people, Plaintiff understood that the Tesla Model S’s safety features would ensure the vehicle would stop on its own in the event of an obstacle being present in the path of the Tesla Model S.”

The lawsuit goes on: “Plaintiff was told by the salesman that she could drive in autopilot mode and just touch the steering wheel occasionally.”

Lommatzsch, 29, also said she tried to hit the brakes but they didn’t work. “When the Plaintiff saw the vehicles stopped in front of her, she attempted to brake but the brakes did not engage,” the lawsuit states.

As well as suing Tesla Inc. and Tesla Motors Utah Inc, Lommatzsch is suing Service King Paint & Body, which the lawsuit states replaced a sensor on the vehicle during the year leading up to the crash.

The lawsuit said Lommatzsch “has been injured in her health, strength and activity and has suffered and will continue to suffer serious physical injuries, pain, discomfort, distress and disability, and has suffered the loss of the pleasures and enjoyment of life and physical impairment, all to her general damage in amounts to be determined at trial.”

The woman is seeking damages in the amount of at least $300,000 to cover both economic and non-economic damages, and is demanding a jury trial.

The incident occurred at 6:38 p.m. on May 11 when the South Jordan Police Department received a report of a traffic crash involving the Tesla Model S and a mechanic truck from the UFA, a news release from the police department said.

The incident occurred at 10400 S. Bangerter Highway, at the intersection of State Routes 154 and 151, where traffic had come to a complete stop.

“The driver of the Tesla Model S, a 28-year-old female from Lehi, was subsequently interviewed by the South Jordan Police and said that she had been using the ‘autopilot’ feature in the Tesla,” the news release said.

“While Tesla’s autopilot feature indicates that a driver must be attentive at all times, the driver admitted that she was looking at her phone prior to the collision. Based upon witness information, the driver of the Tesla did not brake or take any action to avoid the collision.”

Lommatzsch was transported to a local hospital with a broken right foot. The driver of the UFA vehicle was checked for injuries related to whiplash but did not need to be transported.

Technicians from Tesla successfully recovered the data from the vehicle. According to Tesla’s report, the vehicle indicated:

  • The driver engaged autosteer and traffic aware cruise control on multiple occasions
    during this drive cycle. She repeatedly cancelled and then re-engaged these features, and regularly adjusted the vehicle’s cruising speed.
  •  Drivers are repeatedly advised autopilot features do not make Tesla vehicles
    “autonomous” and that the driver absolutely must remain vigilant with their eyes on the
    road, hands on the wheel and they must be prepared to take any and all action necessary to avoid hazards on the road.
  •  The vehicle registered more than a dozen instances of her hands being off the steering
    wheel in this drive cycle. On two such occasions, she had her hands off the wheel for
    more than one minute each time and her hands came back on only after a visual alert was provided. Each time she put her hands back on the wheel, she took them back off the wheel after a few seconds.
  • About one minute and 22 seconds before the crash, she re-enabled autosteer and cruise
    control, and then, within two seconds, took her hands off the steering wheel again. She
    did not touch the steering wheel for the next 80 seconds until the crash happened; this is consistent with her admission that she was looking at her phone at the time.
  • The vehicle was traveling at about 60 mph when the crash happened. This is the speed
    the driver selected.
  • The driver manually pressed the vehicle brake pedal fractions of a second prior to the
  • Contrary to the proper use of autopilot, the driver did not pay attention to the road at all
    times, did not keep her hands on the steering wheel, and she used it on a street with no
    center median and with stoplight controlled intersections.

Based upon the findings of this investigation, the driver of the Tesla was issued a traffic citation for failure to keep proper lookout under South Jordan City municipal code 10.28.030 (traffic infraction).

When Gephardt Daily reached out to Tesla Wednesday, a spokesperson issued the following statement: “When using autopilot, drivers are continuously reminded of their responsibility to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of the vehicle at all times. Tesla has always been clear that autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”

Federal officials have investigated at least two accidents in which Tesla crashed while in autopilot.

At least one fatal accident has been reported. An investigation attributed that accident to a failure of software.

Gephardt Daily will have more on this developing story as information is made available.


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