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Problems with “The Safest Car in America”

February 20, 2014 | Michael Barasch

In October, Tesla Motors took some heat when one of its Model S cars caught fire and burned across the Internet in a viral video. In the weeks since, the safety reputation of this unique electric car has gone up in smoke as two more fires raise questions about its design.

In the past, the Tesla car received five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in all testing categories. At present, the company’s stock continues to plummet as incidents like the following come to light:

  • In early October, a Washington state Model S owner struck a piece of metal debris that fell from a semi-truck. The metal piece punctured the steel armor shielding the lithium-ion battery pack underneath the car. The car instructed the driver to exit the vehicle, which then caught fire. No one was hurt.
  • In late October, a Model S driven in Mexico struck a wall, then a tree and caught fire.
  • In November, another Model S driver in Tennessee struck a tow-hitch lying in the road. Again, the driver exited the vehicle, which quickly became engulfed in flames that destroyed the car.
  • Adding to company troubles, in mid-November, an accident at its assembly plant in Fremont, California sent three Tesla workers to the hospital after an aluminum casting press failed.

Automotive manufacturers who design cars must ensure that the vehicles are safe under the uncontrolled circumstances of a real driving environment. While Tesla vehicles garnered high safety ratings when studied, the open road — and its obstacles — are proving a challenge to the car and the company.

In November, a class-action lawsuit on behalf of investors claiming misrepresentation of the safety of the vehicle was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

These fires highlight a problem that can hopefully be addressed before it injures or takes human life. If injured in a car defective by design, seek reputable legal counsel in New York.

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