A longstanding goal of the "Green Revolution" has been the replacement of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines with those powered by electrical energy. This has led to the introduction of the first mass-produced "total electric" vehicles. However, concerns have been raised over the safety of such vehicles due to unresolved issues concerning their batteries.
How the Accident Occurred
The following account is compiled from several local news sources. Although we cannot speak of the accuracy of these reports, we believe them to be reasonably factual.
At about 4:30 on the afternoon of February 14th, Omar Awan was driving a 2016 Tesla Model S "at a high rate of speed" (Forbes.com quotes witnesses who estimate the vehicle's speed to have been from 75 to 90 mph in a 50 mph zone) along South Flamingo Road in the Miami suburb of Davie. According to witnesses and police investigators, Awan appeared to have drifted to the right shoulder and then "overcorrected." The vehicle then crossed three lanes of traffic before crashing into a grove of trees in the highway median. By the time first responders arrived on scene, the vehicle was engulfed in flames. After the fire was extinguished, rescuers discovered that Awan was "burned beyond recognition." At this time it is not known if Awan suffered a "medical condition" in the moments before the accident or if a mechanical defect / malfunction may have contributed to the crash.
Based on the above, we have identified four issues suggesting the that the victim's Tesla Model S was defective in both design and assembly.
- the vehicle's airbags did not deflate after deploying normally on impact
- the vehicle's electric door handles did not extend, thwarting efforts to rescue the driver
- the vehicle caught fire on impact or shortly afterward
- the vehicle's lithium-ion battery casing was damaged, allowing it to catch fire at least twice after the original vehicle fire was extinguished
While we admit that our information may be incomplete, we feel the local and national media may have documented several issues that suggest the vehicle's maker, Tesla Motors, may have marketed a product that is inherently unsafe. In the next section, we will discuss why we believe these observations could support a wrongful death due to a defective product lawsuit.
Current Issues Surrounding the Model S
As mentioned above, we feel that the Tesla Model S has several safety issues.
The airbag system used by Tesla in its 2016 Model S product was manufactured by the Takata Corporation. This is the same company that was forced into bankruptcy by the costs related to the mandatory recall of millions of its only product: airbags. At the time of the Davie accident, Tesla was involved in a voluntary recall of its later model-year products to replace potentially defective airbags. That recall would have included the Davie vehicle but, to the best of our knowledge, its maintenance record is not currently available.
Electric door handles
The Tesla product line is noted for its recessed door handles which, as seen in this short YouTube video, are flush with the vehicle's doors unless a sensor detects a nearby (within inches) presence. The door handle will then automatically extend and allow entry by the driver or passenger. According to the 2016 Model S Owner's Manual, if an airbag deploys the door handles the door are supposed to extend automatically when the airbag deflates. According to witnesses at the scene, the vehicle's airbag did not deflate, and the door handles did not extend, thus defeating efforts to rescue the driver before the vehicle became engulfed by fire.
Vehicle fires following high-speed accidents are not uncommon but neither are they commonplace. Most vehicle fires occur when the mechanical forces generated during an accident cause a rupture of the fuel tank causes a fuel leak that is ignited by a spark or by fuel coming into contact with hot metal. In the Davie accident, a fuel leak cannot have been responsible for the subsequent fire for one reason: the Tesla Model S, like all Tesla vehicles, is electrically powered and thus does not have a fuel tank!
Tesla's lithium-ion battery offers the best combination of battery weight / storage capacity / vehicle range. The only problem with Tesla's battery is that, like any other lithium battery, it is chemically unstable and will vigorously burn if its plastic casing is damaged and water, in any form, reaches its internal structure. Even the moisture that is normally present in the atmosphere ("humidity") is sufficient to start this reaction. This appears to have been the cause of the two fires that broke out after the Davie accident, the first occurring after the vehicle had been loaded onto a tow truck but had not yet left the accident scene and the second fire occurring several hours later at the vehicle storage yard.
When a company sells any product, it does so with an implied warranty that the product is safe to use. If a product later causes an injury due to some factor the manufacturer either knew was present, or should have known aboutif the product had been adequately tested.In the case of the Tesla Model S involved in the Davie accident, there seem to be several findings suggesting the vehicle was unsafe and that those findings were responsible for the death of the vehicle's owner.
If you were injured in an auto accident involving a vehicle containing a lithium-ion battery, we invite you to contactt the automobile accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national personal injury law practice with offices located throughout the country to arrange a free, no obligation, review of your automobile accident personal injury case and a discussion of the legal options that may be available to you.
We look forward to your call, and we are ready to help you earn the best possible settlement for your injuries and other losses.