Tesla Settles Fatal Crash Suit as Another Jury Trial Loomed

Tesla Inc. has reached a deal to resolve a lawsuit over the death of a Model S passenger in a fiery 2016 crash, marking the second time in two months the electric-vehicle maker has avoided a jury trial in California over a fatal wreck.

Friday’s settlement comes after the automaker in April struck a confidential accord in a high-profile suit over a crash involving Autopilot on the eve of a trial. In that case an Apple Inc. engineer was killed on the way to work in 2018 when his Model X veered off the highway and slammed into a roadside barrier at about 71 miles (114 kilometers) per hour.

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While Tesla has drawn a lot of attention from regulatory investigations and litigation over alleged defects with its assisted-driving software, the crash in downtown Indianapolis almost eight years ago involved different issues.

The plaintiffs claimed that driver Casey Speckman lost control of the 2015 Model S when the car suddenly accelerated on its own, hitting a tree and bursting into flames. Speckman’s boss, Kevin McCarthy, who was in the passenger seat, allegedly survived the impact but died in the blaze ignited by a battery explosion, according to his family’s complaint in state court in San Jose. The suit blamed the “propensity of the vehicle to catch fire, as well as the defective design of the door latch system entrapping him in the vehicle.”

Related: Lawsuit: Tesla’s Autopilot Caused Fiery Crash into Tree, Killing Colorado Man

Tesla maintains there was nothing wrong with the car. It said the data event recorder showed that Speckman kept her foot on the accelerator pedal before the crash and never attempted to brake. It also said police reports revealed that Speckman was found to be driving with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

The company lost a bid for dismissal of the Speckman family’s suit in February 2023 when a judge concluded that Tesla had failed to show that the plaintiffs didn’t have evidence to refute the company’s version of events. A confidential settlement was reached with her family less than two months later.

A trial in the McCarthy family’s case was scheduled to start next Monday. The settlement was described as “conditional” but no details were provided in a court filing Friday by a lawyer for the family.

Lawyers for Tesla and the McCarthy family didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In cases blaming Autopilot for crashes, the electric-vehicle maker prevailed in two previous trials in California after juries found the accidents — one fatal and one not — were due to driver error rather than the company’s technology. Each of the trials, and more that are scheduled in coming months in California and Florida, clash with Tesla co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s mantra that Teslas are the safest cars ever made.

The case is McCarthy v. Tesla Inc., 19CV358560, California Superior Court, Santa Clara County (San Jose).

Top photo: Tesla vehicles are seen on a lot at a Tesla dealership on December 13, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Tesla is recalling nearly all vehicles sold in the US after a near two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found a defect in the Autopilot system. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images).