Jury will decide if Model S battery was defective, and if speed limiter removal was negligent.

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Barrett Riley Tesla Crash Lawsuit Heads to Trial
Jury will decide if Model S battery was defective, and if speed limiter removal was negligent.

— Details of a Tesla Model S crash that killed 18-year-old Florida resident Barrett Riley will be heard by a jury after a federal judge declined to dismiss the lawsuit filed against Tesla.

Riley was driving the 2014 Model S when he tried to pass another car and lost control while traveling 116 mph on a curve with a posted 30 mph speed limit and an advised speed limit of 25 mph.

The Model S went over a concrete curb, hit two walls, went off the second wall and crossed five lanes of traffic while the Tesla rotated. The car finally struck another curb and a light pole before coming to a stop.

Riley and his 18-year-old front seat passenger were wearing their seat belts but died in the crash. A second 18-year-old passenger in the back seat who was not wearing a seat belt was ejected and survived the accident.

In March 2018, two months before the crash, Barrett Riley had been cited for driving 112 mph on a road with a posted speed limit of 50 mph. Barrett's father asked Tesla if anything could be done to limit the speed of the Model S and technicians put the car into loaner mode to limit the top speed to 85 mph.

But the younger Riley took the Model S to Tesla and asked for the speed limiter to be removed, without his parents knowing or giving their consent. According to court documents, Tesla admits it did not inform the parents about the removal of the speed limiter.

Federal Investigation of Riley Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board opened a federal investigation into the Florida crash and determined Barrett Riley and his passenger were killed because Riley lost control while traveling 116 mph on a curve with an advised speed limit of 25 mph.

NTSB investigators also said the Model S battery fire contributed to the fatal injuries.

The government also learned the Model S was purchased in December 2014 and was owned by the driver’s family through a limited liability company, but his family gave Barrett the car at the end of 2017 which made him the primary driver.

The NTSB also determined the car had two unrepaired safety recalls which were not a factor in the crash.

Tesla Denies Liability

According to the lawsuit, Tesla was negligent for deactivating the speed limiter without alerting the parents, and Tesla is also allegedly liable because the Model S "contained design defects in its lithium-ion battery cells and battery pack that made the product unsafe for its intended and foreseeable use."

According to the plaintiff, the car’s battery cells and battery pack failed to include materials to "mitigate or contain thermal runaway or fire" and Tesla knew or should have known the Model S was "negligently designed and knew or should have known that the car was unreasonably dangerous."

Tesla argues it was not negligent in deactivating the speed limiter because the Tesla driver requested the removal. And even by assuming the speed limiter was active to limit the top speed to 85 mph, Tesla says the Model S still would not have made the 25 mph curve.

The automaker also denies the Model S was defective in its design of the battery pack or that it was "uniquely susceptible to thermal runaway."

Instead, Tesla asserts the fire occurred because the battery design "was overwhelmed by the crash forces, which caused mechanical damage to the battery."

Tesla further claims the crash was due to Barrett’s reckless driving and his parents "were negligent in allowing Barrett to drive the vehicle given their knowledge of Barrett’s driving history."

Judge Alicia O. Valle sent the case to a planned July trial to let jurors decide if the battery should have been better protected and if Tesla was negligent in removing the speed limiter.

The Barrett Riley Tesla Model S crash lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida: Riley, v. Tesla, Inc.

The plaintiff is represented by Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, and Colson Hicks Eidson.


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