Tesla door handles caused doctor's death in fiery crash, widow's suit … – South Florida Sun Sentinel

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Failure of Telsa’s automatic door handles and “unreasonably dangerous” fire risk caused the death of a doctor who was killed in a fiery crash in Davie, his widow claims in a lawsuit against the electric car company.
Liliana Awan filed suit against Tesla in Broward Circuit Court earlier this month over the Feb. 24 death of her husband, Dr. Omar Awan, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist. The couple had five children.
Tesla Motors Inc. and its Florida distributor, Tesla Florida Inc., are named as defendants. The company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suit.
Omar Awan was driving his leased 2016 Model S near the 1300 block of South Flamingo Road when it left the roadway, swerved through three lanes of traffic, hit a median and some trees and burst into flames, a police report stated.
A Davie police officer arrived at the scene almost immediately after the crash and tried to open the car’s doors, but the handles failed to automatically extend from their retracted positions, the suit claims.
“Without door handles, he could not open the doors,” the suit 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, the suit states. When not in use, the handles withdraw flush into the door. While the withdrawn handles create a “smooth, stylish line,” they cannot be accessed manually, Lililana Awan’s complaint states.
Tesla claims the door handles are “designed for efficiency” and help make the Model S “the most aerodynamic car in its class.”
A Consumer Reports survey in 2015 found numerous issues with inoperable door handles on the Model S, Bloomberg reported.
As smoke from the Tesla’s burning batteries filled the car’s cabin, the police officer and other bystanders watched helplessly as Awan’s car became completely engulfed in flames, the suit says.
“After the Tesla hit the tree, he was alive. He had no internal injuries or broken bones. He died from the smoke he inhaled as he sat locked inside the Tesla, despite that a police officer and others were there and ready to help, until flames forced them away,” the suit says.
Stuart Grossman of Coral Gables-based Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, P.A., said he believes Awan was conscious after the crash and tried but failed to open the door from inside the car while the would-be rescuers tried to open it from the outside.
“I cannot imagine he sat there burning to death without trying to open the door,” the attorney said by phone Thursday.
Tesla should have made sure its car could be accessed in an emergency, he said. “If a car is going to crash — and inevitably they do — and you cannot get out of the car or cannot get into the car to rescue someone, that’s a fundamental design flaw,” Grossman said.
The car “continued to burn for hours, reigniting several times, even after the initial fire had been extinguished by emergency professionals and the car was towed,” the suit states.
Tesla knew that its batteries were prone to “unique types of fire risk,” the widow claimed.
The lawsuit charges that Awan’s Tesla was “defective and unreasonably dangerous” because the door handles could not be operated after the crash, and because its batteries were prone to catching fire. Telsa, the suit claims, was negligent for failing to warn Awan of the alleged defects.
“Tesla vehicles are engineered to be the safest cars in the world and Tesla drivers have driven more than 10 billion miles to date,” a Tesla spokeswoman said shortly after the crash.
Liliana Awan’s suit is the latest in a series of lawsuits against Tesla following fatal crashes in South Florida.
Earlier this month, the father of 18-year-old Barrett Riley filed suit against Tesla in California, blaming his May 2018 death in Fort Lauderdale on the battery design of the 2014 Model S.
Riley and a fellow senior were killed when Riley lost control of his father’s Tesla while driving 116 mph. The car exploded into a ball of fire after smashing into a concrete wall.
In July, the family of a 50-year-old killed in the March crash of his Model 3 into a semitruck in west Delray Beach filed suit in Palm Beach County, blaming the death on failure of the car’s Autopilot feature.
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