Tesla fined for fatal US crash, even though driver was 90 per cent at fault

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Despite an 18-year-old driver and his father being deemed 99 per cent responsible for a road fatality in the US in 2018, Tesla has been ordered to pay thousands in compensation for its 1 per cent involvement in the crash.


Jordan Mulach

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Electric-car specialist Tesla has been ordered to pay $US105,000 ($AU152,000) to the family of an 18-year-old driver who died after crashing a Model S four years ago.

As reported by news agency Bloomberg, Florida man Barrett Riley crashed a Tesla Model S into a concrete wall at 187km/h in Fort Lauderdale in May 2018, causing the vehicle to burst into flames.

The driver, Barrett Riley, and an 18-year-old front-seat passenger, Edgar Monserratt, were killed in the crash.



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Tesla had previously activated a 135km/h speed limiter on the Model S at the request of Barrett Riley’s mother, after he had been fined for driving 180km/h in an 80km/h zone.

However, the speed limiter was later removed after Barrett Riley had reportedly “tricked” a Tesla technician into deactivating it.

Lawyers for the Riley family argued Tesla should have sought authorisation from Barrett Riley’s father, the registered owner of the vehicle.



The Riley family had also claimed a defect in the Tesla Model S battery caused it to burst into flames. However, this assertion was dismissed before the trial began.

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The Florida state court concluded parents James and Jenny Riley had sustained $US10.5 million ($AU15.2m) in pain and suffering damages as a result of the crash which killed their son Barrett Riley and his front-seat passenger.

Barrett Riley was deemed to be 90 per cent responsible for the fatal crash while James Riley was deemed by the court to be nine per cent at fault.



The remaining one per cent fault for the crash was deemed to be caused by Tesla’s negligence in allowing the speed limiter to be removed.

During the trial, James Riley had claimed Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk had contacted him in the days after the crash, admitting Tesla had made a mistake in removing the limiter.

However, Tesla’s lawyers denied this had been mentioned in the conversation.



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Regardless of whether Musk had admitted fault on behalf of his company, a 2018 software update – which included a note on the in-car settings screen that said “In memory of Barrett Riley” – let drivers set their own speed limits.

The court ruling comes as Tesla is under continued scrutiny from road safety regulators in the US for a number of fatal and serious-injury crashes involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving systems.

However, this is the second instance in 2022 where a driver – rather than Tesla technology – has been found to be at fault in a fatal or serious-injury crash.



In January 2022, a California man was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter after his Tesla Model S crashed into the back of a Honda Civic at a set of lights, killing the two occupants of the Honda.

Despite the Tesla ‘Autopilot’ system being engaged at the time of the crash, the responsibility was placed on the driver.

Jordan Mulach

Jordan Mulach is Canberra/Ngunnawal born, currently residing in Brisbane/Turrbal. Joining the Drive team in 2022, Jordan has previously worked for Auto Action, MotorsportM8, The Supercars Collective and TouringCarTimes, WhichCar, Wheels, Motor and Street Machine. Jordan is a self-described iRacing addict and can be found on weekends either behind the wheel of his Octavia RS or swearing at his ZH Fairlane.

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