Who’s Liable After a Tesla Smart Summon Accident?

Tesla Smart Summon

Tesla Smart Summon was originally released on September 26, 2019 as part of the company’s software version 10.0 update. It added a novel feature to thousands of Model S, Model X, and Model 3 cars with the Full Self-Driving or Enhanced Autopilot packages. 

In 2021, Tesla introduced software update 2021.4.18.10 to fix minor bugs with Smart Summon. Tesla also made it possible for customers with Full Self-Driving capable cars to subscribe monthly to its premium driver assistance package–which includes Smart Summon–as an alternative to paying $10,000 up front for the feature. 

With Tesla Smart Summon, drivers can use their mobile phones to summon their parked cars to their location across a parking lot or down a long driveway. While autonomous driving features like this are tremendously exciting, they also introduce the potential for a new type of car accident. As such, many drivers and insurance agents are wondering—who is liable in an accident involving a car that’s driving itself?

What Is Tesla Smart Summon?

Tesla Smart Summon is a “beta” feature that works using the car’s various sensors and cameras, as well as the Tesla mobile app. It’s meant to be used while the car is in the driver’s line of sight. On paper, it gives Tesla owners a convenient feature that easily brings their car to them. Here’s an excerpt from the official description:

With Smart Summon, customers who have purchased Full Self-Driving Capability or Enhanced Autopilot can enable their car to navigate a parking lot and come to them or their destination of choice, as long as their car is within their line of sight. It’s the perfect feature to use if you have an overflowing shopping cart, are dealing with a fussy child, or simply don’t want to walk to your car through the rain. Those using Smart Summon must remain responsible for the car and monitor it and its surroundings at all times.

As of October 2, 2019, there were more than 550,000 uses of Tesla Smart Summon, according to CEO Elon Musk. While the vast majority of uses have been successful, there have been some instances of these self-driving cars getting into accidents.

Normal Liability Practices Apply

Tesla has made it plainly clear that the driver using Smart Summon is responsible for his or her car. In the case of an accident, normal liability practices apply, whether the incident takes place in a fault or no-fault state.

That said, people driving in parking lots have been shocked by the sight of a moving car that has no driver. The surprise could lead to avoidable fender benders or even pedestrian accidents. Whether it’s the fault of the person summoning the car or the driver that hit it, car accidents involving Tesla Smart Summon are handled as if the summoner were driving the car.

Furthermore, software release notes state that, “Smart Summon is only intended for use in private parking lots and driveways.” Similar to end-user license agreements and terms of service, many people do not comprehensively read software release notes. Even those that do may have no problem using the Smart Summon feature in ways it wasn’t “intended” for. With the included language in the software release notes, Tesla has absolved itself of responsibility—for now.

Could the Software Be Blamed?

Although the majority of Tesla Smart Summon uses have been incident-free thus far, a vocal minority claims that the company’s software isn’t ready for mainstream use. They believe Model S, Model X, and Model 3 drivers are essentially Tesla’s beta testers. Elon Musk has even been quoted saying, “Summon is sometimes useful, but mostly just a fun trick.” 

If car crashes involving Tesla self-driving cars become more common, it’s possible that a class-action lawsuit may be filed or that certain Tesla vehicles could be considered dangerous products.

For now, it’s clear that the responsibility for a car using Smart Summon belongs to the owner. In the event of an accident, the liability belongs to the at-fault party, with certain exceptions in no-fault states. As with most new technology, the laws governing autonomous driving are still developing and evolving. You can count on Lerner and Rowe Injury Attorneys to keep you abreast with the latest developments.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident involving a car that uses Tesla Smart Summon then contact Lerner and Rowe Injury Attorneys immediately. Our team will handle your situation with compassion and care, while our lawyers will fight to earn you the largest settlement possible. Remember, we take no fees unless your case is won.

For your convenience, you can also contact us 24/7 through the Internet using our online contact form and LiveChat features. We’re also available by phone at 844-977-1900. Our team is ready and waiting to serve all your legal needs. Contact us today.

The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.