Tesla, Musk sued by shareholders over self-driving safety claims

FILE PHOTO: The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Tesla Inc and its Chief Executive Elon Musk were sued on Monday by shareholders who accused them of overstating the effectiveness and safety of their electric vehicles' Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies.

In a proposed class action filed in San Francisco federal court, shareholders said Tesla defrauded them over four years with false and misleading statements that concealed how its technologies, suspected as a possible cause of multiple fatal crashes, "created a serious risk of accident and injury."

They said Tesla's share price fell several times as the truth became known, including after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating the technologies, and reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Musk's Autopilot claims.

The share price also fell 5.7% on Feb. 16 after NHTSA forced a recall of more than 362,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving beta software because they could be unsafe around intersections.

Tesla has said it acquiesced to the recall, though it disagreed with NHTSA's analysis.

"As a result of defendants' wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the Company's common stock, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages," the complaint said.

Tesla, which does not have a media relations department, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Monday's lawsuit led by shareholder Thomas Lamontagne seeks unspecified damages for Tesla shareholders from Feb. 19, 2019 to Feb. 17, 2023. Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn and his predecessor Deepak Ahuja are also defendants.

Tesla's share price closed Monday up $10.75, or 5.5%, at $207.63, but the stock has lost about half its value since peaking in Nov. 2021.

Musk, the world's second-richest person, is expected at Tesla's March 1 investor day to promote the company's artificial intelligence capability and plans to expand its vehicle lineup.

The case is Lamontagne v Tesla Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 23-00869.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates)