Tesla was recently slapped with a wrongful death lawsuit after a 48-year old named Omar Awan tragically died in a February fire after his Model S crashed into a tree at a speed of 75-90 MPH. Though emergency personnel arrived on the scene, a report from Bloomberg notes that they there were unable to extract Awan from the vehicle on account of the car’s motorized door handles. Recall, the door handles on some Tesla models are designed to sit flush with the car and only extend outwards when needed.
“Fire engulfed the car and burned Dr. Awan beyond recognition,” the complaint reads in part, “all because the Model S has inaccessible door handles, no other way to open the doors, and an unreasonably dangerous fire risk.”
Notably, a Model S user guide includes the following statement regarding the automated door handles in an accident scenario:
Under normal conditions, when you press a handle, it extends to allow you to open the door. If door handles do not function, open the door manually by reaching inside the window and using the interior handle.
When an airbag inflates, Model S is designed to unlock all doors, the trunk, and extends all door handles.
For whatever reason, though, the door handles didn’t extend in this particular instance. The complaint notes that Awan died of smoke inhalation, a fact which suggests that he might have been able to survive if emergency responders were able to pull him out of the car. Interestingly, some Tesla executives were not on board with the motorized handle design in the first place, only to lose that battle with Elon Musk who was a big proponent of the design.
A 2018 Wired story relays the following:
In the mid-2000s, the company was designing the luxury Model S when Musk insisted the car needed handles that would lie flush against its body. They would glide out, as if by magic, just as the owner reached the vehicle, by responding to a signal from an electronic key.
“It was unanimous among the executive staff that the complex door handle idea was crazy,” said a former executive. It required incredibly complicated engineering, and it solved a problem that no one else thought was actually a problem. But no matter how forcefully executives objected, Musk wouldn’t yield.
The suit is seeking $15,000 in damages.