Tesla sued after toddler crashes Model X into pregnant mom

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) - A jury trial involving Tesla is slated to begin this month in Santa Clara County, California. The civil case was filed by attorneys representing a 2-year-old toddler who was behind the wheel of a Tesla Model X when he accidentally crashed into his mother.

Mallory Harcourt was eight-months pregnant when her son crawled into the driver's seat on Dec. 27, 2018. He somehow turned on the Tesla, accelerated up their home driveway into the garage, and struck Harcourt, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Harcourt and her toddler.

The 2-year-old was able to turn on the vehicle and shift it into drive from the footwell, the suit claims. A neighbor heard the mother's screams while she was pinned between the Tesla and garage wall. The neighbor reversed the vehicle and Harcourt survived. She suffered serious pelvic injuries and prematurely delivered her baby while her pelvis was still broken, the suit states.

The lawsuit accuses Tesla of consumer fraud for advertising its Tesla Model X's technology as safe, as well as negligence for alleged flaws in its software design.

The family bought the brand new Tesla just four days before the collision. The electric car company told Harcourt that its Model X was "the safest SUV on the market and perfect for her young and growing family," the lawsuit states.

Tesla was aware of a "defective design" in the Model X, the suit claims.

On Dec. 27, 2018, Harcourt parked the Model X in her Santa Barbara home's driveway with the intention to unload groceries, change her toddler's diaper, and return to the SUV. She turned the Tesla off and left its "falcon wing doors" open.

The toddler is identified in the lawsuit as "B.H."

"Harcourt and B.H. entered into the garage and proceeded up the stairs to their home. B.H. made a quick turn and ran back to the Model X, climbing back into the vehicle through the open front driver's door," the lawsuit states.

The Tesla company logo shines off the rear deck of an unsold 2020 Model X at a Tesla dealership, April 26, 2020. (AP Photo /David Zalubowski, File)

Harcourt called out to her son to get out of the Tesla. "As Harcourt moved directly in front of the Model X, in order to remove B.H. from the vehicle, the Model X ... accelerated toward her, lifting Harcourt off her feet, carrying her into the garage, the slamming and pinning her into the garage wall," the family's attorneys wrote.

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The toddler saw his mother flip into the air and began crying hysterically.

Harcourt suffered multiple pelvis fractures and a broken leg. The toddler was emotionally traumatized from accidentally crashing into his mother, the suit states. Harcourt's baby, who was born after the collision, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit.

The family's attorneys wrote, "All Tesla vehicles, including the 2019 Model X, which is the subject of this lawsuit, utilize a 'drive-by-wire' accelerator pedal and motor control system. The driver causes the vehicle to turn on by depressing the brake pedal, then move from park into drive or reverse by pressing the lever on the right of the steering column. There is no on-off switch, or key ignition for the vehicle. All Tesla vehicles, including the Model X, lack a properly designed system, leading to what is sometimes called 'unintended' or 'un-commanded' acceleration."

In a rebuttal filed in Santa Clara County court by Tesla's attorneys, data retrieved from the Model X revealed that the toddler had pressed both pedals, and pulled the gear selector into "drive." "B.H. pressed the brake pedal while also pulling the gear selector down, which shifted the Model X from Park to Drive. (The toddler) then continued to push both the brake and accelerator pedals, causing the Model X to move forward."

The rebuttal describes Harcourt's son as an "unattended child."

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks to the media. (Photo by Nora Tam/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

Tesla's attorneys wrote, "The facts show that B.H. was able to start the Model X because Mallory left B.H. unattended, left two doors open -- including the driver’s door -- with the key fob in the vehicle, failed to read the owners’ manual or otherwise educate herself on the available Model X features, and failed to enable Tesla’s unique PIN to Drive feature."

When the toddler stopped pressing on the accelerate and brake pedals, the vehicle automatically shifted back into "park," according to Tesla's attorneys. The Model X's "advanced driver assistance features" likely saved the mother's life by cutting motor torque, slowing the vehicle down, and shifting it from "drive" back into "park" when the toddler let go of the accelerator pedal, Tesla claims.

"In no uncertain terms, Tesla denies liability for the incident," the company's attorneys wrote.

The Harcourt family claims they tried to return the Model X to Tesla and demanded a refund after the harrowing accident. The company allegedly refused, and stood by the safety of its technology.

Court proceedings in the case of Mallory Harcourt et al. v. Tesla, Inc. are scheduled to begin on April 8. A jury will determine whether Tesla’s technology was responsible for the crash.

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