Lawsuit blames Tesla motorized door handles for death of driver stuck in burning car

Tesla is facing a wrongful death lawsuit in Broward Country, Florida, claiming that the motorized door handles on the Tesla Model S prevented the rescue of the driver of the car who died after a crash. Bloomberg initially reported the news.

The crash occurred back in February this year. Omar Awan, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist, was the victim, and the suit reveals some important new details. Awan’s cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation. He reportedly suffered no internal injuries or broken bones in the crash.

A police officer who responded to the accident initially was unable to open the doors because the handles were retracted, sitting flush with the car’s doors. The Tesla Model S features door handles that are inaccessible most of the time. They pop out from their flush position with the door when the key fob is near. They’re also supposed to automatically present themselves when the airbags deploy. Neither the lawsuit nor reports have stated whether the airbags inflated during Awan’s crash, but the aftermath of the wreckage show what looks like a high-speed collision with palm trees. The Sun Sentinel reported that Awan was traveling between 75 and 90 mph before he hit the trees, so one would expect the airbags to deploy in such an incident. Despite the high-speed nature of the crash, police say the handles never presented themselves.

Local reports at the time say the flames engulfed the car so quickly that the police officer had to back away, with Awan still stuck inside. Bystanders watched helplessly as the Tesla burned. It’s unclear what state Awan was in post-crash, but the lack of broken bones or internal injuries suggests he would have survived had first responders been able to open the door. If he had been conscious, one could also assume he’d have opened the door himself from the inside using the mechanical latch. Reports are also unclear about attempts to break the window and open the door from inside. We can only assume that nobody was able to get a tool in time to bust the glass — the speed of the flames was emphasized in previous reports of the crash. The lawsuit says the battery-fueled fire burned for hours after the crash and reignited several times, and that “Tesla batteries are prone to unique types of fire risk.”

You can read more about the initial reports at the time of the accident here. We also dug into door handles and door locks across the automotive industry in the aftermath of this accident — Tesla isn’t the only company that uses automatically retracting door handles.

Tesla has not responded to a request for comment, but we’ll update if it does.

Lawsuit blames Tesla motorized door handles for death of driver stuck in burning car originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 24 Oct 2019

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