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Colson Hicks Eidson Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Tesla On Behalf Of Victim Killed In Fatal Battery Fire In Florida

October 9, 2019
Colson Hicks Eidson

The Lawsuit alleges Tesla improperly removed speed limiter device requested by the owner and knowingly failed to install safety measures to prevent the car from engulfing in flames

MIAMI, Fla. (Oct. 9, 2019) – The Miami-based law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against Tesla, Inc. (d/b/a Tesla Motors, Inc.) in the Superior Court of the State of California on behalf of the family of the late Barrett Riley, an 18-year-old high school senior at Pinecrest Academy who died shortly before his graduation in a fatal accident on May 8, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

According to the Complaint, the accident occurred when the 2014 Tesla Model S vehicle, that Barrett Riley was driving, accelerated to a high rate of speed causing him to lose control of the vehicle, and side-swiped a wall in front of a house on the side of the road. The electric-powered vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries burst into an uncontrollable and fatal fire, killing Barrett Riley and his front seat passenger.

The Complaint asserts that just two months before the accident, Barrett Riley’s parents, James Riley (the registered owner of the vehicle) and his wife, Jenny Riley, requested that Tesla install a speed limiter on the Model S, limiting it to a maximum speed of 85 mph. Mrs. Riley specifically advised Tesla that she wanted the speed limiter installed because their son had recently received a speeding ticket and they wanted to protect his safety.

Tesla installed the speed limiter as the Riley’s requested; however, after the vehicle was taken in for service at Tesla’s Dania Beach service department, the device was removed without Riley’s consent or permission; the removal was never communicated to James Riley, the owner of the vehicle, or his wife, until after the accident.

“As parents, James and Jenny took action to protect their son and trusted Tesla to ensure their vehicles were safe and to honor their request,” said Lewis S. “Mike” Eidson, counsel for the Riley family and partner at Colson Hicks Eidson. “If Tesla would have informed the Riley that they removed the device they had originally installed to protect their son, they would never have permitted their son to drive the vehicle. If the speed limiter had remained in place as the Riley’s instructed, the accident would never have happened, and Barret Riley would be alive today.”

The Complaint additionally asserts that the accident was entirely survivable and that the fire occurred because of the Model S’s design defect in its lithium-ion batteries and battery packs. The airbags deployed and Barrett Riley was essentially uninjured by the impact; however, he was killed by the extraordinarily hot and intense fire that started in the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery cells. According to the autopsy report, Barret Riley had no broken bones, no injuries to his head and no injuries to his body other than the fatal burns.

The lawsuit further alleges that Tesla knew that if the batteries were damaged in a foreseeable accident, they were subject to “thermal runaway” – a phenomenon that could result in a conflagration engulfing the car. In fact, Tesla had even patented a design to prevent thermal runaway before the 2014 Model S was manufactured, but failed to implement it in the plaintiff’s Model S.

“The driver’s side of the vehicle was largely undamaged,” added Curtis B. Miner, co-counsel and partner at Colson Hicks Eidson. “Barret Riley died inside the Model S solely due to the runaway battery fire, which could have been avoided had the proper safety measures been implemented. Tesla was fully aware of the risk of thermal runaway in its lithium-ion batteries.”

Colson Hicks Eidson filed the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit along with co-counsel California-based Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger. The case is James B. Riley v. Tesla, Inc., (d/b/a Tesla Motors, Inc.), No. 19CV356346, filed in the Superior Court of the State of California in the County of Santa Clara.

For more information on this lawsuit, contact Curtis Miner at 305-476-7400.


The Law Firm of Colson Hicks Eidson is a trial firm with more than 50 years of experience handling local, national and international litigation, and arbitration. Members of the firm have been involved in some of the country’s most high-profile and landmark cases resulting in impactful and precedential rulings. A mid-size firm with a diverse staff comprised of more than 50 percent women and minorities, Colson Hicks Eidson prides itself on a track record of developing future leaders within the legal profession and its civic and community involvement. Members of the firm have held notable positions serving on the boards of prominent institutions, such as the State University System of Florida and the Florida State Board of Education, and holding high-ranking offices, including President of the 60,000-member American Association for Justice; President of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers; President of the Dade County Bar Association; President of the Miami-Dade Florida Association of Women Lawyers; United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; and Chairman of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission.