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Tesla Owner Suing Automaker, Service King Over Crash

Heather Lommatzsch is suing Tesla over allegedly misleading her about the vehicle’s autonomous features, and Service King because it serviced Lommatzsch’s vehicle within the year before the crash and replaced a sensor.

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A driver who crashed her Tesla Model S earlier this year is suing not only Tesla but a Service King Collision Repair location for at least $300,000 in damages.

Heather Lommatzsch, a 28-year-old from Lehi, Utah, was involved in an accident in South Jordan, Utah, on May 11, 2018 when her Tesla Model S crashed into a mechanic truck from the Unified Fire Authority. Both drivers sustained minor injuries including Lommatzsch, who suffered a broken right foot.

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

Tesla technicians 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 and 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 1 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 crash.
  • 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). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent an investigation team to Utah to conduct their own review of this incident.

While it was clear that Lommatzsch should have been paying attention to the road and properly using the autopilot features, she suggests in the lawsuit that the crash happened because she was misled.

The suit accuses a Tesla salesman of allegedly misleading her about how autonomous the vehicle actually was and that it would stop on its own if an object was present in the path of the vehicle when she bought it back in July 2016.

According to the Tesla’s Model S manual, the vehicle is equipped with autobraking but only releases the brakes for manual use after automatic emergency braking has reduced driving speeds by 25 mph. Tesla also warns drivers that like all advanced driver assistance systems, drivers should stay aware and alert with their hands on the wheel at all times to remain safe and in control.

In the lawsuit, Lommatzsch alleges that the features described to her at point-of-sale didn’t work properly and as intended, which is why she’s suing Tesla for not providing warnings about the vehicle, claiming a breach in warranty. The Service King shop is involved in the lawsuit because it serviced Lommatzsch’s vehicle within the year before the crash and replaced a sensor. Although vague, the lawsuit basically alleges that there was negligence involved on the Model S repair but doesn’t go into specifics.

Lommatzch is currently seeking a trial by jury to settle the case.

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