Is Ji Chang Son’s Tesla Lawsuit Based on a Model X Defect or Greed?

A South Korean celebrity is suing Tesla over an alleged defect that caused his electric SUV to crash through the back wall of his garage and into the living room of his Irvine home, but the automaker counters that the plaintiff essentially tried previously to blackmail the Palo Alto-based company into paying him.

Ji Chang Son, a singer-songwriter who starred in several South Korean films and television shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is seeking class-action status for his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

He and his lawyers allege that Son and nine other Model X owners have experienced sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) while parking their sports utility vehicles with eye-catching gulf-wing rear doors.

“Within the first year of Model X vehicles being on the road, and with only 16,000 Model X vehicles in use (the vast majority of which have been on the road significantly less than one year), there have been ten (10) reported incidents of sudden unintended acceleration—a staggeringly high rate of SUA incidents of 62 per 100,000 vehicles per year,” states the lawsuit.

Son claims that a month after he purchased his Model X at Tesla’s Costa Mesa gallery, he was pulling it into his garage slowly when it unexpectedly accelerated and crashed through the wall, injuring him and his son.

“Tesla has been aware that (SUA) events are occurring at a markedly high rate in the Model X, but has not, as of yet, explained the root cause,” the lawsuit reads. “This made it critically important for Tesla to design and implement an adequate fail-safe system to prevent or mitigate the consequences of SUA. Therefore, the Model X is defective. …”

But Tesla claimed in an email to the Reuters news agency that the company was not responsible for Son’s crash, which the luxury electric automaker blamed on the plaintiff.

“The evidence, including data from the car, conclusively shows that the crash was the result of Mr. Son pressing the accelerator pedal all the way to 100 percent,” reads the Tesla statement, which also blames driver error for the accidents of others cited in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, in a second email—this one to Gizmodo—a Tesla spokesperson claimed that before Son filed the suit, he “threatened to use his celebrity status in Korea to hurt Tesla” unless the company “agreed to make a financial payment and acknowledge that the vehicle accelerated on its own.”

Added the Tesla spokesperson, “Our policy is to stand by the evidence and not to give in to ultimatums.”

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