Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S door handle design blamed for death

Image credit: Melpomenem | Dreamstime.com

The family of a man who died after his car collided with a tree – despite having no internal injuries – have blamed Tesla’s futuristic door handle design for his death, according to a Bloomberg report.

Forty-eight-year-old anaesthesiologist Omar Awan lost control of his hired car – a 2016 Tesla Model S – while driving on a Florida parkway in February. According to media reports, his car had veered off the road for unknown reasons, leading him to overcorrect the steering and sending it careering across three lanes of traffic at up to 145km/h before crashing into a palm tree.

Tesla stated that no car could withstand a high-speed crash of this kind.

Emergency responders called to the scene were unable to open the Tesla’s doors to rescue Awan. The Tesla Model S door handles have a sleek, futuristic design and retract into the car to sit flush with its body when they are not in use. The handles only pop out of the body when activated by the presence of the owner’s key fob.

According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Broward County, police officers and bystanders were unable to help Awan as his car filled with fire and smoke. Local firefighting chief Robert Diferdinando told the media at the time: “We have a problem where the car keeps catching fire because the battery pack itself hasn’t drained yet.” According to the lawsuit, Awan had sustained no broken bones or internal injuries, with the cause of his death recorded as smoke inhalation.

“Fire engulfed the car and burned Dr Awan beyond recognition – all because the Model S has inaccessible door handles, no other way to open the doors, and an unreasonably dangerous fire risk,” the lawsuit claimed. Awan’s family is seeking over $15,000 (£11,600) in damages.

The lawsuit also claims that the fire began with the car’s large lithium-ion battery.

In February, the parents of a teenager who died after a Tesla Model S crashed into a wall and burst into flames sued Tesla for wrongful death, also filing their lawsuit in Broward County Circuit Court. The parents of the teenage driver later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla in the Superior Court of California. According to a law firm representing the parents, there have been at least a dozen reported cases of Tesla Model S batteries catching fire in collisions and while stationary in the past five years. The Tesla Model X has also suffered some battery fires following collisions.

Acknowledging of risk of combustion following collisions, Tesla has published a guide for emergency responders to safely disable their car batteries and other high-voltage systems.

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