The futuristic door handles on the Tesla Model S are being faulted in the traffic death of 48-year-old anesthesiologist Dr. Omar Awan in Davie, Florida. According to the accident report, Awan was traveling on a Florida Parkway when he lost control of his leased Tesla and it crashed into a palm tree. The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit with Broward County State Court faulting the hide-a-way door handles.
According to the lawsuit, a police officer couldn’t open the doors because the handles were retracted and bystanders watched as the car filled with smoke and flames. The suit further alleges that the fire originated with the car’s battery. The lawsuit lists the cause of death as smoke inhalation and states that Awan had sustained no internal injuries or broken bones in the crash.
The handles have a dubious history going back to a Consumer Reports article showing that door handles breaking was the number one complaint about the car, followed by not being able to access the car when the handles were frozen over with ice. A 2018 Wired article reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk insisted on them even though it “was unanimous among the executive staff that the complex door handle idea was crazy.” Top safety advocates have also gone on record attacking the door handles as a safety issue for first responders.
Door handles aside, this and other accidents are teaching first responders about the special conditions surrounding fighting a lithium-ion battery fire. In this case, the police were first on scene and used their fire department approved extinguishers, which are useless against lithium-ion battery fires. These batteries are prone to a chain reaction called thermal runaway which requires a lot of water to extinguish. Firefighters eventually doused the flames with water, which seemed to work, but the wrecked car reignited twice more after being towed away.
This is not the first lawsuit filed against Tesla faulting a lithium-ion battery fire after a high impact crash. Earlier this month there was another filed in San Jose, California. Tesla, as per usual regarding pending legal cases, had no reply to questions about the lawsuits.