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A lawsuit filed Tuesday against electric car maker Tesla acknowledges what’s already known about the May 8 crash in Fort Lauderdale: two 18-year-olds burned to death after the one driving lost control of the car at 116 mph and crashed.
But, the lawsuit says, the 2014 Tesla Model S never should have gone that fast or caused an inferno that killed the two 2018 Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest High School graduates.
Aventura’s Edgar Montserratt and Esperanza Martinez de Montserrat, the parents of passenger Edgar Montserratt Martinez, accuse Tesla of negligence and liability in their son’s death. This suit doesn’t include the parents of deceased driver Barrett Riley, at least not as plaintiff or defendant.
The suit presents James and Jenny Riley, Barrett’s parents, and the Montserratts as victims of Tesla negligence. Three days after Barrett Riley got ticketed for zooming the Tesla at 112 mph through a 50-mph zone on March 3, the suit claims, the Rileys had Tesla mechanics install a device that put an 85-mph limit on the car’s speed.
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But when the car was serviced from March 29 through April 3 at Tesla’s Bahia Beach Broward County service center, Tesla mechanics “improperly removed the speed limiter/governor without the permission and consent of” the Rileys, the suit says.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary crash report says Tesla’s restraints control module measured Barrett Riley’s speed at 116 mph on Seabreeze Boulevard (30 mph speed limit with a 25 mph left-hand curve) three seconds before the crash, 108 mph two seconds before the crash and 86 mph when air bags deployed.
After the second time the careening car hit a wall, the NTSB report says, the Tesla “erupted in flames.” This started a preventable “thermal runaway,” according to Chicago-based transportation attorney Phillip Corboy, representing the Montserrats with Fort Lauderdale’s Scott Schlesinger.
“The two battery packs in the car contain hundreds of small batteries that power everything on the car,” Corboy said. “If one of the batteries catches fire, every battery around it catches fire in short order.”
And an electrical fire burns differently from a gasoline or oil fire. Water and foam do not knock the fire out. As the NTSB report says, after using 200 to 300 gallons of water and foam in an attempt to extinguish the burning car, the battery blazed up again on the tow truck. It rose again in the storage yard, requiring fire rescue workers to put it out.
The suit says Tesla should have treated the battery with “intumescent material to provide protection from the propagation of thermal runaway from one cell to adjacent cells.”