A Utah driver whose Tesla Model S crashed into a stopped firetruck while the car was operating in its semi-autonomous Autopilot mode has sued the automaker, alleging that Tesla salespeople told her the car would stop on its own in Autopilot if an obstacle appeared in its path.
The driver, 29-year-old Heather Lommatzsch, claimed in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Salt Lake County that Tesla salespeople told her in July 2o16 when she purchased the Model S that she could use Autopilot hands-free as long as she touched the steering wheel “occasionally.” Lommatzsch also alleges that sales people stressed the Model S would “stop on its own in the event of an obstacle being present” in the path of the car.
Lommatzch’s vehicle crashed into a parked firetruck in May while traveling at 60 mph. Local police said at the time that her Model S was trailing a vehicle that switched lanes before the firetruck, and Lommatzch’s vehicle continued ahead without stopping. The complaint was first posted on Wednesday by Matt Drange of tech news outlet The Information.
In an interview with police, Lommatzch said she was looking at her phone prior to the collision, but in the suit she claims she attempted to brake just before the crash, “but the brakes did not engage.”
The suit may open Tesla up to a host of questions about how it educates drivers on the limitations of Autopilot, as it’s facing a suite of investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board over accidents involving the use of the semi-autonomous system.
The automaker says drivers should keep their hands on the wheel while Autopilot is engaged, and that it’s designed to prompt drivers to pay attention to the road. Data from the car showed Lommatzch didn’t touch the wheel for 80 seconds before the crash.
Tesla reiterated those points in a statement to Jalopnik on Thursday.
“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,” a spokesperson said. “Tesla has always been clear that Autopilot doesn’t make the car impervious to all accidents.”
But the company has come under fire in the past over allegations that its sales staff misled prospective buyers over what Autopilot can and cannot do. The timing of Lommatzch’s Model S purchase is notable, too: it came just weeks after a fatal crash involving a Tesla owner using Autopilot was first publicized.
The family of a victim in a January 2016 crash involving a Model S traveling in Autopilot has also alleged that Tesla salespeople exaggerated the system’s capabilities, as Jalopnik reported earlier this year. Gao Jubin, the victim’s father, told Jalopnik that his son was told by a Tesla salesperson that Autopilot can virtually handle all driving functions.
“If you are on Autopilot you can just sleep on the highway and leave the car alone; it will know when to brake or turn, and you can listen to music or drink coffee,” Jubin said, summarizing the salesperson’s purported remarks. Reuters later found that Tesla sales staff in China took their hands off the wheel during Autopilot demonstrations. (They were later told to make the limitations of the system clear.)
Tesla CEO Elon Musk took issue with coverage of the crash at the time, saying the focus shouldn’t be on the use of a relatively new feature in cars, and instead on the fact Lommatzch emerged from a serious crash with only a broken foot.
Lommatzch suffered a broken ankle in the crash, and she’s seeking a jury trial and at least $300,000 in the suit for the injuries and other damages.
Her attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.