On Monday, July 19, a Fort Lauderdale federal jury released its verdict about a 2018 Tesla Model S crash, resulting in 18-year-old Barrett Riley’s death. The jury found Tesla 1% negligent for the Model S accident and ruled that the victim and his father were 99% at fault.
The six-person jury found that Barrett was 90% to blame for the crash, while his father—James Riley—was 9% liable. Barrett’s mother—Jenny Riley—was found 0% responsible for the incident. As per Bloomberg, the jury also ruled that James and Jenny Riley sustained $10.5 million in pain and suffering damages for their son’s death.
On May 8, 2018, the 18-year-old drove his father’s Model S with his friends. Riley lost control of the vehicle while driving at 116 miles per hour. The Model S hit the concrete wall of a house in Fort Lauderdale and caught on fire. Riley and one of his passengers, Edgar, died in the incident, while a third survived the crash.
Tesla Batteries not Liable
James Riley filed a product liability suit against Tesla in a Florida federal court in 2020. In his complaint, Riley claims that the Model S vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries “burst into an uncontrollable and fatal fire” after his son crashed.
The Riley family argued that Barrett might have survived the accident if the Model S hadn’t caught on fire because of a defective Tesla battery design. On June 29, a judge dismissed the Rileys’ claim about a defect in Tesla’s lithium-ion battery cells and battery pack before the trial started.
Drivers make Cars Safe
Barrett’s family also noted that Tesla removed the speed-limiting device Jenny Riley requested for the Model S, designed to cap the vehicle’s speed at 85 mph.
However, Tesla’s lawyers argued that the teenager told the company’s service center staff to remove the speed limiter on the Model S. A testimony from one of Barrett’s friends revealed that the 18-year-old “tricked” a Tesla technician into deactivating the limiter.
“A driver makes the car safe, the speed limiter does not,” Tesla’s lawyers told the Florida jurors.
Elon Musk reached out to James Riley a few days after his son’s death. The father of seven asked Musk to acknowledge that the death of his son and his friend “led to the enhanced safety of others.” Following Riley’s request, Tesla updated its release notes for Speed Limit Mode with a dedication, saying: “In memory of Barrett Riley.”