The incident took place on the 8th May 2018, where Barrett Riley was driving his father’s Tesla Model S with some of his friends. Riley was travelling at 116 miles per hour when he lost control of the vehicle and collided with the wall of a house before it went up in flames. Riley and one of his friends, Edgar, sadly did not survive the crash and the other three passengers managed to escape.
Barrett Riley’s father, James, filed a product liability suit against Tesla in 2020, claiming that the “fatal fire” was due to the lithium-ion batteries bursting into “uncontrollable fire”. The argument is that the family believe Barrett and Edgar might have been able to survive the crash if the car had not set alight from a defective battery design. However, a judge dismissed the claim about the defect in the battery pack on the 29th June, before the trial started.
Jenny Riley, Barrett’s mother, had also asked for a speed-limiting device on the Tesla which should cap the speed at 85 mph. The family claimed that this had been removed by Tesla. Tesla’s lawyers claimed that Barrett had asked for this device to be removed at a Tesla service centre. The lawyers argued that:
“A driver makes the car safe, the speed limiter does not,”
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, contacted James Riley a few days after the incident when Riley requested that Musk acknowledge that it would lead to “enhanced safety of others”. In response to this, Tesla updated the release notes for Speed Limit Mode to include a dedication to Barrett.
At the end of the trial, the jury of six found Tesla 1% negligent and that Barrett & James Riley were 99% at fault. The jury ruled that Barrett’s parents endured $10.5 million in pain and suffering damages.