Tesla’s flush door handles under fire in wrongful death lawsuit
The retracted door handles prevented first responders from entering the vehicle
The Tesla Model S has sleek, retractable door handles that pop out when presented with the key fob. The retractable door handles are a cool styling feature, but they also can become problematic, and are points of failure for consumers who are then locked out of their cars. More importantly, according to a recently filed lawsuit, these door handles can also prevent first responders from pulling someone out of a burning car.
According to Bloomberg, a police officer on the scene in South Florida couldn’t open the door of a burning Tesla Model S in early February, which allegedly resulted in Omar Awan’s death. Obviously, with lithium-ion-related fires, acting quickly is essential to saving lives, and the retracted door handles apparently prevented first responders from immediately removing Awan from the crash. It’s doubtful that the police officer on the scene had extraction gear because that’s generally reserved for rescue crews.
The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed on Oct. 10 and blames the door handles for Awan’s death. This isn’t the first instance of a Tesla sedan’s batteries combusting, and lithium-ion batteries are notoriously difficult to extinguish. While Awan’s Tesla was extinguished at the scene, it reportedly reignited several times in the tow yard.
There are ways to manually pull the Tesla door handle into the open position, but it seems like that only works when the door handle’s mechanical system has failed. That means it might not have been effective in saving Awan’s life.
Tesla isn’t the only automaker to use retractable door handles, and you can bet this lawsuit will be on engineers’ minds going forward.