Tesla Wins First Trial Involving “Autopilot,” but More Serious Cases Loom

On April 21, Tesla was handed a victory in the first-ever trial involving Autopilot. The case provides an early glimpse into how efforts to hold Tesla liable for Autopilot crashes might fare with juries, and the press has called the trial a “bellwether” for others that are currently pending. Nevertheless, a close look at the facts indicates that plaintiffs might have more success in the future.

The plaintiff, Justine Hsu, was driving her Tesla in stop and go traffic on a surface street with a concrete median in Arcadia, California. She activated Autopilot, a suite of features that includes “traffic aware cruise control,” a system that automatically adjusts speed based on traffic conditions and that is, according to her complaint, popular among Tesla owners in heavy traffic. The car was driving about 20-30 miles per hour when it suddenly swerved off the road and into the median. At this point the car’s airbag deployed, shattering Hsu’s jaw and knocking out several of her teeth. (The airbag manufacturer was also a defendant in the case, and was also found not liable by the jury).

In a few ways, Hsu’s case represents a classic fact pattern involving Autopilot. On one hand, the system clearly did not function as it was designed to do. Autonomous vehicles should not suddenly swerve off the road, and yet in several cases Autopilot has done just that. One such case was the crash that killed Walter Huang, who was using Autopilot on his commute to work when his car veered off the highway and into a concrete barrier at more than 70 miles per hour. On a basic level, Hsu’s case was an effort to hold Tesla liable for this malfunction, and also for the misleading way Autopilot is marketed.

On the other hand, Hsu was using Autopilot in a setting where it was not supposed to be used.

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Out-of-state landlords dramatically slowed acquisitions in the first quarter of 2023

City of Milwaukee home sales fell to pre-pandemic levels through the first quarter of 2023. Slightly more than 1,400 houses were sold in self-reported arm’s length transactions during the first three months of this year. That is down from nearly 2,100 in both 2021 and 2022, but it is similar to the sale volume in 2018 and 2019.

The statistics in this article are derived from a custom dataset matching state transaction records with city parcel data. Due to delays in the reporting process, the 2023 statistics are preliminary, and the final totals will likely be slightly higher than at present. About 1.5% of transactions could not be matched and are not included in this analysis.

Most notably, out-of-state landlords dramatically slowed their pace of acquisitions. Their share of arm’s length home sales fell from 20% in the first quarter of 2022 to just 9% in 2023. The proportion of purchases by owner-occupiers and city or suburban-based landlords all ticked upwards compared to the last two years.

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Why did Tony Evers outperform Mandela Barnes?

Tony Evers won reelection as governor by an unusually large margin for a top-of-the-ticket November election in Wisconsin. He received 51.1% of the vote, compared to 47.8% for his challenger, Republican Tim Michels.

Simultaneously, Republican Senator Ron Johnson was also reelected, albeit more narrowly. Johnson won 50.4% of the vote, while his Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes took 49.4%.

Expressed in margin terms, the outcome of the governor’s race was a 3.4-point Democratic victory, and the outcome of the senate race was a 1.0-point Republican win, meaning the two races saw a net spread of 4.4 points. That’s no small thing in a state as narrowly divided as Wisconsin, where the 2000, 2004, 2016, and 2020 presidential races were all decided by less than 1 point. (In fact, the last two presidential candidates to actually win a majority of the vote are Barack Obama and Michael Dukakis.)

Many observers were surprised by this gap between Evers and Barnes—the two most prominent statewide Democratic candidates. Some suggested that a wave of racist attack ads accounted for Barnes’ narrow loss. Certainly, publicly available polling showed a marked decline in support for Barnes between the primary and the general election, consistent with the timing of the anti-Barnes advertising blitz.

Still, after comparing the two marquee races to everything else on the ballot, it’s clear that Barnes’ performance isn’t unusual. Instead, Evers’ strong performance and the enduring significance of incumbency advantage are what stand out.

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