Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
February 25, 2019

Elon Musk’s Failing Underbody Shields: Man Killed in Horrific Tesla Battery Fire in Davie, Florida

Tesla routinely brags about making the safest cars on the market, yet its horrendous battery fires continue to occur, often with deadly consequences.

Omar Awan was driving a Tesla Model S on Flamingo Road in Davie, Florida, when a crash caused the car to burst into flames, killing Awan, whose face was burned “beyond recognition” according to a Sun Sentinel reporter.

The fatality took place around 4:30 PM on Sunday, February 24. According to police reports, Awan was heading north on Flamingo Road when he apparently lost control of the vehicle, which caused it to hit a median and a few trees, and immediately burst into flames. The fire was caused by a punctured battery, investigators said.

First responders were unable to rescue Awan from the inferno, and his burns were so horrific that forensic experts couldn’t immediately confirm his identity. But even after the driver was long gone, the fire wasn’t quite over yet. The vehicle’s remains caught fire once more after they were taken to a tow yard.

While fire is possible after any car crash, manufacturers are expected to ensure flammable parts are sufficiently insulated. Our law firm was instrumental in exposing General Motors’ unsafe gas tanks, which claimed many lives, including that of our clients’ teenage son, who burned alive after a minor collision.

What is happening with Tesla is something we’ve seen before: car companies are continuing to put unsafe vehicles out on U.S. streets.

In our landmark case against General Motors, we were dealing with fuel-fed fires. Now, we’re facing highly flammable batteries, which have caused fires that took firefighters many hours to put out, and have even reignited hours later.

This is not the first time Florida has seen a fatal Tesla battery fire. In May 2018, two teenagers were killed in a similar Model S fire in Fort Lauderdale. The battery caught fire two more times after the fire was put out at the scene of the accident. Once when the police were transporting the car away from the crash, and again when investigators attempted to remove the battery.

At the time, Tesla attributed the accident to the driver going over the advisable speed limit. But Awan was reportedly going at less than Tesla’s recommended maximum speed (90 mph), which suggests Tesla has a bigger problem than they are willing to admit.

Musk’s Failed Promises

The NHTSA has already investigated Tesla’s battery fires. But in 2014, the probe was terminated after Tesla vowed to shield the batteries better. At the time, Tesla’s influential CEO, Elon Musk, announced that the underbody of their new cars would feature a triple shield: aluminum bar, titanium plate, and solid aluminum extrusion. The company also offered a service to add the new features to the cars that were already on the street.

In 2014, Musk wrote, “With a track record of zero deaths or serious, permanent injuries since our vehicles went into production six years ago, there is no safer car on the road than a Tesla. The addition of the underbody shields simply takes it a step further.”

Yet Awan’s death is a testament to the fact that Tesla batteries continue to be dangerously ruptured during crashes, in spite of Musk’s optimistically advertised underbody protections.

Chronology of Tesla Battery Fires

  • October 2013 –Tesla Model S collides with debris in Seattle, car catches fire, driver uninjured.
  • October 2013 –Tesla crashes through the wall, hits a tree in Mexico, then catches fire, driver uninjured.
  • November 2013 –Tesla Model S runs over tow hitch in Tennessee, catches fire, driver uninjured.
  • February 2014 –Tesla Model S catches fire in Toronto, Canada. Driver uninjured.
  • July 2014 – Tesla Model S crashes against various vehicles and catches fire in Los Angeles. Driver in critical condition, two police officers injured.
  • June 2015 – Tesla catches fire after plunging off a cliff in Los Angeles. Driver killed in the fire.
  • August 2016 –Tesla catches fire in France during promo tour. No injuries.
  • November 2016 –Tesla crashes into tree in Indianapolis and catches fire. Both driver and passenger killed.
  • March 2017 –Tesla Model Scatches fire at charging station in China. No injuries.
  • August 2017 –Tesla crashes into home in Lake Forest, CA, ignites a fire in the garage. Driver injured.
  • October 2017 –Tesla Model S crashes into a concrete barrier in Austria, catches fire. Driver injured.
  • March 2018 –Tesla Model X crashes against other vehicles in Mountain View, CA, catches fire. Driver killed. Tesla stock goes down 5 percent after the fatality.
  • May 2018 – Tesla Model S crashes against a concrete wall in Fort Lauderdale, catches fire. Two teenagers dead, one injured.
  • May 2018 – Tesla crashes against a concrete barrier in Ticino, Switzerland, catches fire. Driver killed.
  • June 2018 – Husband of actress Mary McCormack’s Tesla spontaneously catches fire while in traffic in LA. No injuries.
  • December 2018 – Tesla Model S catches fire in a parking lot in Los Gatos, CA, reignites later at the tow yard. No injuries.
  • February 2019 – Tesla crashes into tree in Alameda County, CA, catches fire, car crumpled into “a metal ball”. Driver escapes.
  • February 2019 – Tesla Model S hits median and trees in Davie, FL, catches fire. Driver killed.

John Uustal is a Fort Lauderdale trial lawyer with a national law practice focused on serious injuries resulting from dangerous and poorly designed products. His upcoming book Corporate Serial Killers focuses on companies that choose profits over safety.

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