First Tesla Autopilot jury trial ends in loss for family of driver killed in Menifee crash

Jurors in state court in Riverside on Tuesday sided with Tesla in the first lawsuit blaming a fatality on Autopilot to go to trial.

Tesla convinced a jury that its Autopilot technology wasn’t responsible for a crash that killed a driver in Menifee four years ago, vindicating the driver-assistance system that’s a core part of Elon Musk’s efforts to make his electric-car company stand out from rivals.

Jurors in state court in Riverside on Tuesday sided with Tesla in the first lawsuit blaming a fatality on Autopilot to go to trial.

Also see: Tesla tells jurors fatal crash in Menifee had nothing to do with Autopilot

The family of the deceased driver, Micah Lee, and two passengers who were seriously injured sought $400 million in damages for physical injury, mental anguish and loss of the driver’s life.

Tesla’s eight-year experiment with semi-autonomous driving is mired in controversy even as Musk has maintained that the technology makes his cars the safest ever produced.

The company faces federal probes into whether defects in Autopilot have contributed to at least 17 deaths since June 2021, as well as regulatory investigations and lawsuits over claims that it has over-hyped its progress toward hands-free driving. Several suits over fatal crashes are headed to trial in coming months in California and Florida.

More on Tesla: Driver of Tesla on autopilot gets probation for crash that killed 2 in Gardena

The verdict came as Tesla shares are set to wipe out nearly one-fifth of their value in less than two weeks amid growing concerns that demand for electric cars is starting to weaken.

Also see: Tesla allowing no-hands Autopilot driving for longer periods. Regulators have questions

The trial that played out in Riverside for almost a month focused on Lee, whose Model 3 veered off the 215 freeway in 2019, slammed into a tree and burst into flames.

Lawyers representing the crash survivors argued that a manufacturing defect in Autopilot mode caused the car to sharply swerve off the road. Tesla contended Lee had been drinking alcohol before he got behind the wheel and that there was no evidence he had even activated Autopilot before the collision.

Lee’s blood-alcohol level on the night of the crash was 0.05%, and the police officer who investigated the accident concluded it was caused by Lee who was driving under the influence, Tesla’s attorney, Michael Carey, told jurors in late September. The state’s legal limit for most adults is 0.08%, but drivers can be arrested with a lower blood-alcohol level if their driving skills are found to be impaired.

Lindsay Molander, one of the injured passengers, told Carey that Lee consumed a drink and she had some wine while they were having dinner together at a restaurant in Downtown Disney in Anaheim earlier that evening.

More on Autopilot: Musk oversaw video exaggerating Tesla’s self-driving capabilities

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California’s Litigation Dystopia

The civil-rights division’s case against Activision spotlights the vicious feeding cycle that sometimes only a federal judge can stop.

For years, the zombie-like California Civil Rights Department (CRD) has roamed the Golden State in search of brains, or, rather, of businesses it can feast on for revenue in the name of social justice. Wherever it finds a victim, the CRD draws a crowd of opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers, each seeking to leverage the agency’s claims on behalf of the companies’ other alleged victims.

Consider its case against Santa Monica–based video-game maker Activision. Citing the agency’s claim that the company tolerated a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture,” attorneys piled on.

On January 17, a federal judge in California drove off some of those opportunistic plaintiffs with a torch — putting an end to the sad case of two different shareholder groups trying to exploit California’s still-unproven CRD allegations, dismissing their claims for the third time, now “with prejudice and without leave to amend.”

As in all good monster movies, there’s humor and irony too.

In the summer of 2021, when CRD sued the video-game maker for its “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture,” Activision was already headed toward a resolution of those claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ultimately agreeing to establish an $18 million fund for the alleged victims. In spite of this — in fact, deliberately to spite this — the CRD went to federal court to try to derail the EEOC settlement six times. Each time, a federal judge told them to butt out, declaring the federal settlement “fair, adequate and reasonable” and in “the public interest.” The CRD is now trying to persuade an appeals court to allow it to prevent victims from getting the settlement funds.

Here’s where the conventional horror movie becomes comedy.

Just days before the January 17 judge’s order, the Office of the New York City Comptroller, also smelling brains, tried to join one of the doomed plaintiffs’ suits. The comptroller claimed that Activision’s workplace-harassment suits imperiled the city’s pension-fund investments in the company. In a filing that cited the CRD’s most salacious claims, the comptroller’s attorneys added the funny bit: The city’s intervention on behalf of NYC Funds was part of the comptroller’s historic interest in pursuing social justice.

Their papers specifically highlighted the heroic actions of then-comptroller Scott Stringer. “In October 2019,” the city’s attorneys asserted:

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the NYC Funds . . . call[ed] on major companies to adopt hiring policies requiring women and racially/ethnically diverse candidates to be considered for selection to corporate boards of directors. . . . Despite this striking success, the NYC Funds soon learned just how much work there remained to do at Activision.

It’s true that Stringer persuaded Activision and twelve other companies to sign on to a voluntary agreement to abide by aggressive diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in board recruitment. But it’s also true that the comptroller threatened legal action if the company did not sign on. And it’s equally true that the NYC comptroller’s office failed to note that former comptroller Stringer had gender-equity problems of his own.

It was a strange omission in a city that knows Scott Stringer well.

*   *   *

There was a moment in 2021 when the New York City mayor’s race belonged to Scott Stringer: a progressive Democrat, the cousin of former U.S. representative Bella Abzug, and son of Ronald Stringer (the man who served as legal counsel to Mayor Abe Beame when, in 1975, New York City ran out of cash and came this close to bankruptcy).

Stringer was born to politics, in other words. Like twelve-year-old Jesus of Nazareth teaching the rabbis, he was appointed to Manhattan’s Community Planning Board at the remarkable age of 16 and was practically breastfed in the New York State Assembly where he served as a legislative assistant to then-assemblyman Jerry Nadler. Stringer slipped into Nadler’s seat when the boss departed for Congress. In 2006, Stringer was elected Manhattan Borough president.

As borough president, Stringer proved himself adept in the dark arts of signaling his virtue — a gift that would serve him well until it didn’t. In one memorable moment, in 2010, he and fiancée Elyse Buxbaum theatrically picked up their marriage license in Connecticut, the better to stand in solidarity with New York’s gays and lesbians who were, at the time, barred from marrying in the Empire State.

His political fortunes rose higher. In 2014, Stringer was elected to the city’s powerful comptroller’s office. There, instead of demanding financial rigor in a city built on profligate spending and corruption, he pushed the office into identity politics. His highest achievement was “Boardroom 3.0,” the effort to use his city’s pension-fund investments to persuade publicly traded companies “to adopt a policy requiring the consideration of both women and people of color for director and CEO searches.”

By the time Stringer announced he would run for New York City mayor, his office had helpfully cock-a-doodled his work to protect the vulnerable. “NYC Comptroller Stringer and Retirement Systems Announce Precedent-Setting Board/CEO Diversity Search Policies as part of Boardroom 3.0 Initiative,” the office declared in an April 14 press release.

So, how does a guy with those bona fides — the family connections, the job history, the performative possibilities inherent in political office — blow a race for mayor of New York that nearly everyone figured was his?

He gets accused of sexual misconduct.

*   *   *

This is how the end came. In September 2020, Stringer launched his campaign for mayor. In April 2021, a former intern accused Stringer of sexual misconduct during a campaign 20 years before.

“I am coming forward now because being forced to see him on my living room TV every day, pretending to be a champion for women’s rights, just sickens me,” she told the New York Times.

Stringer fell to third in the polls, behind Andrew Yang and Eric Adams. Two months later, following a second allegation, Stringer, well and truly toasted, abandoned his run for mayor.

Some might have been humbled. Not Scott Stringer. In the waning days of 2022, he sued one of his accusers, in a move the progressive Nation magazine called “a case study in what not to do.”

By now Stringer knows that the facts of these cases — whether they involve a major corporation like Activision or a political figure like Stringer — don’t matter nearly so much as the accusation. Often enough, the accusation itself is lethal.

Click here to read the full article in the National Review