— A Tesla Model X lawsuit says the SUV has design flaws that allowed a two-year-old boy to drive the vehicle into his mother.
The California plaintiff, 31-year-old Mallory Harcourt, purchased the 2018 Model X in December 2018 when she was 8 months pregnant with her second child. On December 27, 2018, three days after she bought the SUV, she drove home to drop off groceries and change her two-year-old son's diaper.
She says she parked in her driveway with the garage door open and put the SUV into PARK and shut off the engine. She got out of the vehicle and opened the doors to remove the groceries and her son from his car seat. According to the lawsuit, she left the doors open because she was going to immediately return to the Model X.
The plaintiff and her son went into the garage and headed up the stairs to their home, but the two-year-old quickly turned back and ran to the SUV. The plaintiff put down the groceries and called for her son to come back as she came down the stairs, but he had climbed through the open driver-side door and into the driver's seat.
As his mother walked in front of the SUV to get him out of the Model X, the vehicle accelerated toward her, "lifting HARCOURT off her feet, carrying her into the garage, then slamming and pinning her into the garage wall."
According to the lawsuit, Harcourt says she knew she was seriously injured and had to scream for help from neighbors across the street, but they were allegedly unable to put the SUV into reverse. The plaintiff allegedly had to tell her neighbors how to reverse and shut down the vehicle.
The plaintiff says she suffered a broken leg and fractures to her pelvis, causing her to prematurely deliver her baby girl.
Lawyers for the plaintiff claim defects in the Model X caused an "un-commanded acceleration event" that caused her injuries, but police investigators said the two-year-old drove the SUV. And the plaintiff admits her son quickly learned how to "start and operate the Tesla."
“My toddler learned how to start and operate the Tesla faster than an adult can open a childproof bottle. We could have died, the public needs to know.” - Mallory Harcourt
In addition to her own injuries, the plaintiff says her son burst into tears during the incident and has been traumatized, requiring therapy.
Lawyers for Mrs. Harcourt say they sent letters to Tesla requesting the automaker "issue a formal advisory and make a practical, safety modification to the Model X’s start-and-drive functionality."
Counsel for Tesla responded to the letter from plaintiff's counsel and in detail described diagnostic log data that allegedly shows exactly how the incident occurred.
According to the data log, the driver parked the vehicle, unbuckled and opened the driver’s door to exit and the driver’s door was then closed and the left side falcon wing door (the left rear door) was opened.
"Moments later, someone pressed the driver’s door handle triggering the driver’s door to open. The vehicle remained in Park at this time and the left falcon door remained open. About 9 seconds later, the brake pedal was pressed, which prompted the driver’s door to automatically close. About 3 seconds later, the gear selector lever was manually used to shift the vehicle into Drive gear, triggering an operator alert advising that various doors were open with the vehicle in gear."
Tesla says over the next six seconds, "the vehicle continued to be in Drive gear with the brake pedal pressed until the accelerator pedal was pressed and the brake pedal was released. Over the next second, the vehicle speed increased in response to the pressure being applied to the accelerator pedal."
Over the next two seconds, the accelerator pedal allegedly continued to be pressed ranging from 44 to 98 percent and the brake pedal was briefly pressed, prompting the vehicle to issue a user message advising that both pedals were being pressed.
Tesla says, "Pressing the brake pedal overrode the accelerator pedal such that the motor torque being commanded by the accelerator pedal input was appropriately suppressed."
"In the next 4 seconds, while varying manual pressure continued to be applied to the accelerator pedal, the vehicle speed increase was consistent with the pressure applied to the accelerator pedal, and then multiple alerts were triggered indicative of an impact to the left side falcon door. Then, the brake pedal was pressed including activation of the Anti-Lock Braking System, the accelerator pedal was released, and the vehicle came to a stop."
Tesla says the Model X "responded to the operator’s inputs, as designed."
"We regret that this incident happened, however, we have not found any other instance of this sequence of events occurring—an unsupervised child manages to successfully shift the vehicle into gear and then apply the accelerator pedal—and we do not believe it is reasonably foreseeable."
However, a lawyer for the plaintiff says, “Tesla’s response is outrageous, the mother, son and unborn baby could have been killed.”
Even though the plaintiff purchased the SUV after allegedly researching its features and how the vehicle worked, the lawsuit says Tesla's "conduct was despicable, and so contemptible that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people and was carried on by Defendants with a willful and conscious disregard for the safety of PLAINTIFFS and others, entitling PLAINTIFFS to exemplary damages under Civil Code section 3294."
While some people complain about automakers equipping vehicles with so-called safety technology that interferes with certain aspects of using a car, Tesla allegedly should have equipped the SUV with multiple systems to save people from themselves.
According to the plaintiff, Tesla should have designed and created the vehicle with these features:
- "Integration of the seat occupancy sensor to ensure a driver is in the seat prior to engagement of the automobile."
- "A simultaneously pushed button on the shifting mechanism to engage the vehicle’s drive system."
- "Control logic to ensure all doors are manually closed prior to engagement of the automobile in to an operational mode, and/or lack of a proper, reasonable, and necessary control logic to prevent accidental and/ or unintentional shifting of the vehicle into forward (Drive) or reverse."
The Tesla Model X lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda - Harcourt v. Tesla, Inc.
The plaintiff is represented by the Gokal Law Group.