Tesla Settles Fatal Crash Suit Ahead of California Trial

Settlement Comes After Automaker in April Struck Confidential Accord in a High-Profile Suit Over a Crash Involving Autopilot
Tesla dealership
A Tesla dealership in Austin, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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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.

The May 24 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 per hour.

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.”

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.


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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 June 3. The settlement was described as “conditional,” but no details were provided in a court filing May 24 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 the coming months in California and Florida, clash with Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk’s mantra that Teslas are the safest cars ever made.

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