Tesla Inc. has found itself under legal siege in South Florida in connection with a May 2018 car crash that left two dead and a 2014 Tesla S engulfed in flames.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Broward Circuit Court has accused the car manufacturer of negligence in the death of 18-year-old Edgar Monserratt Martinez. Martinez was in the front passenger seat of the Tesla S with driver Barrett Riley when the vehicle plowed into a wall at 116 mph. The collision, which took place on Seabreeze Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, sent the car careening into the road before it eventually struck a metal light pole and stopped at a wall on the opposite side of the street. The vehicle burst into flames following the final impact, with Martinez and Riley still inside, Another passenger, Alexander Berry, was tossed from the vehicle, but survived.
“The fire turned into an inferno so quickly they had no opportunity to get out,” attorney Philip Corboy Jr. said. Corboy, a personal injury lawyer and partner at Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio, is one of the attorneys representing Martinez’s family in the suit against Tesla. The complaint listed the deceased teen’s father and mother — Edgar Monserratt and Esperanza Martinez — as the plaintiffs seeking monetary damages.
Read the lawsuit:
The complaint alleges the company was negligent in ensuring the safety of customers using the Tesla Model S. It describes the car’s batteries as “inherently unstable and subject to explosion and spontaneous fire.” Corboy noted there have been numerous reports of fires consuming Tesla Model S vehicles due to complications with its batteries.
“There’s a concept known as thermal runaway, and when one battery catches fire it spreads to everything around it,” the attorney said, pointing out the Tesla Model S holds hundreds of batteries in its two battery packs. Corboy said one of the batteries exploded upon the car’s initial collision before more were damaged when the vehicle struck the east-side wall on Seabreeze Boulevard.
A Tesla spokesperson provided a statement expressing that the company’s thoughts “continue to be with the families affected by this tragedy.”
“Unfortunately, no car could have withstood a high-speed crash of this kind,” the statement read. “Tesla’s Speed-Limit Mode, which allows Tesla owners to limit their car’s speed and acceleration, was introduced as an over-the-air update last year in dedication to our customer’s son, Barrett Riley, who tragically passed away in the accident.”
But the suit alleges Tesla was negligent in complying with requests made by the vehicle’s owners, Riley’s parents, James and Jenny. Although they had ordered a speed limiter to be placed on the car after Riley received a speeding ticket for driving 112 mph, the device, or governor, was not on the vehicle at the time of the accident.
“When [Riley] went to pick it up he told the Tesla people to take the governor off,” Corboy said. “Tesla didn’t ask why, they said, ‘Sure!’” The attorney said research has indicated it’s not just collisions that have caused Tesla batteries to combust, and that the plaintiff might learn more in discovery. “It’s a whole host of problems with Tesla, it’s not just one,” he said. “Had this car not been able to go 85 mph, our engineers tell us it easily could have survived that road.”
Corboy pointed out Tesla had requested a patent for intumescent and fire-retardant coating for its batteries in 2009. Although the request was granted in 2010, he says the substance was ultimately not used.
“We’re going to find out why,” he said. “The car wouldn’t have caught fire and exploded the way it had if it used the intumescent material.”
In addition to Corboy, the plaintiff’s legal team includes Scott Schlesinger and other attorneys from Schlesinger Law Offices in Fort Lauderdale.