The futuristic door handles on Tesla Inc.’s Model S are being blamed for a fatal crash in which a police officer was unable to pull a man to safety from his burning car.
Omar Awan, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist, was driving his leased Tesla in February when he lost control on a south Florida parkway and the car slammed into a palm tree, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in state court in Broward County.
A police officer couldn’t open the doors because the handles were retracted and bystanders watched helplessly as the car filled with smoke and flames, according to the complaint, which alleges the fire originated with the car’s battery.
The door handles on the Model S are flush with the car and pop out — “auto-present” in the words of Tesla — when they detect that the key fob is nearby.
“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,” according to the Oct. 10 suit. The complaint lists the cause of death as smoke inhalation and states that Awan had sustained no internal injuries or broken bones in the crash.
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Consumer Reports said in 2015 that broken door handles were one of the most common problems with the Model S.
Awan’s Tesla continued to burn for hours, reigniting several times even after firefighters had extinguished the flames and the car had been towed, according to the complaint.
This isn’t the only case to fault the Model S’s lithium-ion batteries as flammable. The family of an 18-year-old who lost control of his Tesla at 116 miles per hour and crashed into a concrete wall last year blames an explosion of the battery for his death in an “entirely survivable” crash, according to a suit filed this month in state court in San Jose, California.
Awan’s case is Awan v. Tesla Inc., 19-021110, Circuit Court of Broward County, Florida.