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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Says Tesla Door Handles Caused Man’s Death in Fiery Crash

US Safety Regulators Review 23 Tesla Crashes, Several Involving Autopilot System

The failure of Tesla’s automatic door handles and an “unreasonably dangerous” fire risk caused the death of Dr. Omar Awan who was killed in a fiery crash in Davie, Florida, in February 2019. His widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his behalf. According to a news report in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Liliana Awan filed the lawsuit against Tesla in Broward Circuit Court earlier this month over the Feb. 24 death of her husband, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist. The couple has five children.

The lawsuit names Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors Inc. and its Florida distributor, Tesla Florida Inc., as defendants. The lawsuit zeroes in on the vehicle’s susceptibility to catch fire and the failure of its door handles to enable access by rescuers and emergency personnel. Awan was driving his leased 2016 Model S in Davie when the vehicle left the roadway, swerved through lanes of traffic, hit a median and some trees, and then burst into flames.

Defective Design of Door Handles

A Davie police officer was the first to arrive on the scene soon after the crash and tried to open the car’s doors, but the handles did not automatically extend from their retracted positions, the lawsuit states. Without door handles, the officer could not open the doors and rescue Awan from the fire.

The lawsuit says automatic extension of the door handles when the driver approaches a Tesla with a key fob is a feature of the car’s design. When not in use, the handles retract flush into the door. While these types of handles look cool, they cannot be accessed manually, the lawsuit states. Tesla claims that its door handles are “designed for efficiency” and help make the Model S the most “aerodynamic car” in its class.

A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found a number of issues with inoperable door handles on the Model S. As smoke from the Tesla’s burning batteries filled the car’s cabin, the police officer who was at the crash site and other bystanders had to watch helplessly as Awan’s Tesla became fully engulfed in flames. Awan was alive after the Tesla hit the tree and he didn’t even have internal injuries or broken bones, the lawsuit states. He died from smoke inhalation injuries.

Tesla’s Lawsuits and Accountability

There have been other lawsuits filed against Tesla in Florida. Earlier this month, the father of 18-year-old Barett Riley filed suit against the automaker in California blaming his May 2018 death in Fort Lauderdale on the battery design of the 2014 Model S. Riley and a fellow high school senior were killed when Riley lost control of his father’s Tesla while driving at 116 mph. The car exploded into a ball of fire after crashing into a wall. In July, the family of a 50-year-old man killed in a Model 3 collision with a big rig in Delray Beach sued Tesla blaming the fatal crash on the car’s Autopilot feature.

Automakers have a responsibility to manufacture vehicles that will keep drivers safe. In fact, safety should be paramount and supersede all other factors regarding vehicle design. If you or a loved one has been injured or lost a loved one due to an unsafe vehicle or defective auto, you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries, damages and losses. An experienced auto defect lawyer will be able to help you better understand your legal rights and options.


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California Personal Injury Blog