Tesla has paid out $5 million to settle a 2017 class action lawsuit that originally alleged that the Autopilot feature shipped in 2016 in the company’s cars was “essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous.” The settlement does not admit this, but rather compensates owners for delays in delivering the promised functionality; owners who paid $5,000 for Autopilot will be reimbursed for as little as $20 or as much as $280 according to how long they had to wait.
Although Tesla claimed that the semi-autonomous driving software would improve safety and reduce the possibility of collisions, it was in practice erratic and unreliable. “Contrary to what Tesla represented to them, buyers of affected vehicles have become beta testers of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous if engaged,” read the initial complaint.
A series of crashes that took place while Autopilot was active didn’t help dissuade anyone of that, though Tesla has maintained that the feature has improved safety overall. It also continued to update the system, bringing it closer to its original promise, but those improvements have taken a great deal more time than users were told to expect. Ultimately it was those delays in achieving the promised functionality that Tesla admitted were worth compensating the class members for.
The settlement proposal was sent several weeks ago (and intercepted by Electrek) and yesterday the plaintiffs filed documents saying they had agreed to it and as such would be dismissing the lawsuit as soon as the court permitted it.
Consumers who paid for Autopilot before January 24, 2017 will receive $280, and the number decreases steadily the later people bought their cars or paid for the upgrade. The smallest amount is $20, hardly worth cashing in, but that’s the nature of class action suits.
In a statement, Tesla emphasized its continual improvement of the Autopilot system, but acknowledged the need to pay back customers (including those outside the U.S., who technically aren’t part of the suit) for the inconvenience:
Since rolling out our second generation of Autopilot hardware in October 2016, we have continued to provide software updates that have led to a major improvement in Autopilot functionality.
That said, as time passed since we first unveiled Hardware 2, it eventually became clear that it was taking us longer to roll out these features than we would have liked or initially expected. We want to do right by those customers, so as part of a proposed settlement agreement for a class action lawsuit filed last year, we’ve agreed to compensate customers who purchased Autopilot on Hardware 2 vehicles who had to wait longer than we expected for these features.
Although the settlement is specific to customers in the US, if it is approved by the court, we’ve decided to compensate all customers globally in the same way. There’s no legal obligation to do so, but it’s the right thing to do
The settlement still has to be approved by the court, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason to think it won’t be.