Teens burned to death after 116-mph crash. Lawsuit blames Tesla for the speed and fire.

Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt Martinez
Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt Martinez Facebook

A lawsuit filed Tuesday against electric car maker Tesla acknowledges what’s already known about last year’s 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 Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest High School seniors 16 days before their graduation.

Aventura’s Edgar Monserratt and Esperanza Martinez de Monserratt, the parents of passenger Edgar Monserratt 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 Monserratts 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.

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.

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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.

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A Tesla spokesperson said the high rate of speed led to the crash.

“Our 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 Tesla spokesperson said in an email. “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.”

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 Monserratts 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 ignited 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.”

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Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.