A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed
Tesla claims that there's no higher risk of a fire in an electric vehicle over a gasoline-powered car, despite its vehicles grabbing plenty of headlines over the years for catching fire. However, this particular Tesla is alleged to not only have caught fire but also trapped the driver inside. According to Bloomberg, a wrongful death lawsuit filed with the Circuit Court of Broward County, Florida alleges that the motorized retractable door handles on the Tesla Model S prevented the driver from being rescued from his Tesla while it was on fire and smoke filled the cabin.
The driver was Omar Awan, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist, who in February this year lost control of his Tesla Model 3 in Florida and crashed into a palm tree. According to the complaint, a police officer couldn't open the doors to rescue Awan, and could only watch in horror. According to the lawsuit: "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 mechanical door handles are designed to auto-retract and sit flush with the door when not in use, but in an impact they should pop out at the same time the airbags inflate. According to the lawsuit, the cause of death was smoke inhalation.
Complaints about the complexly engineered door handles aren't new, and Bloomberg refers to Consumer Reports citing in 2015 that broken door handles were one of the most common problems with the Model S. Tesla customers have also reported them freezing in cold weather and leaving them stranded, and even just stopping working for no apparent reason.
The complaint also notes that the Model S continued burning for hours, even reigniting multiple times after the car had been towed. It's also not the first time the faulty door handles have cited in a lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit filed in California regarding a man named Kevin McCarthy attributes them as one of the reasons he couldn't escape a burning Tesla Model S after a crash.