On February 21, 1967, during a test procedure for Apollo 1, a fire occurred in the crew cabin. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee were killed in the accident. The crew could not be rescued, because the hatch door could not be opened from the outside by rescuers.
Despite America’s “space race” against the Soviet Union, the manned space program was halted from 20 months to investigate and address the causes of the accident.
In the public sector, when your technology kills people, you take it off the line and fix the problem before you put people in harm’s way.
The private sector is a little different.
This February, according to a lawsuit, Omar Awan was driving a Model S Tesla when he lost control and careened off the road. A fire ignited in the car. A crowd gathered and a police officer came while he was burning. But, according to the family, they couldn’t help because they could not open the car’s “auto-present” doors.
Backed by a strong earnings report, Tesla stocks are soaring today, up near $300/share.
From the Washington Post:
Awan’s death is one in a string of recent incidents that have been blamed on Tesla’s innovative technology. A lawsuit stemming from a May 2018 crash that killed two teens also blamed a battery fire for at least one of the deaths. ((Awan’s family attorney Stuart Grossman) represents the car’s third passenger, who survived the accident after being thrown from the vehicle.)
In April, surveillance footage from a Shanghai parking garage showed smoke billowing from a Model S moments before the car burst into flames. The widely shared video prompted Tesla to open an internal investigation.
Several other suits have attributed deaths to Tesla’s “Autopilot” system, an automatic driver-assistance feature.
“There are a number of these cases,” Grossman said. “What the hell is going on?”
After the Awan crash, Tesla did not halt production for 20 months. Instead:
Shortly after the February crash, a Tesla spokeswoman told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that “We are deeply saddened by this accident” but that “Tesla vehicles are engineered to be the safest cars in the world and Tesla drivers have driven more than 10 billion miles to date.”
Tort law is here for this. Tort law is the only thing that is here for this. You can make your jokes about tort lawyers or seemingly frivolous lawsuits — Lord knows I have. But at the end of the day, a private company like Tesla is never going to run its business with the kind of restraint as an agency like NASA, no matter how much the owner talks about going to space.
Unless the tort lawyers make them.
A man died in a burning Tesla because its futuristic doors wouldn’t open, lawsuit alleges (Washington Post)
Elie Mystal is the Executive Editor of Above the Law and a contributor at The Nation. He can be reached @ElieNYC on Twitter, or at [email protected] He will resist.