Man fatally burned in fiery Tesla crash after door wouldn't open, lawsuit alleges

The late father of five was "burned beyond recognition," his lawyer said.

October 24, 2019, 12:36 PM

The widow of a father of five in Florida is suing Tesla after her late husband was burned alive in a Model S when the electronic door handles wouldn't open during a fiery crash, according to court documents.

Omar Awan, a 48-year-old anesthesiologist, died on Feb. 24 after his Tesla Model S veered out of control on a parkway and struck a palm tree. A police officer who witnessed the accident immediately rushed to help, court documents stated.

"The police officer tried to open the doors of the Awan Tesla but the door handles were retracted, and did not 'auto-present' when he approached," according to the complaint filed earlier this month. "The sleek design of the Model S doors eliminates anything that can be pulled or opened until the recessed handles become available."  

The automaker's website touts the electric door handles as part of its design meant for "incredible aerodynamics, ludicrous performance and uncompromised aesthetics."

"Automatic door handles auto-present upon approach and withdraw when closed," the website states.

As the car caught fire and flames spread, the complaint alleges the Tesla's doors and door handles "remained inaccessible and locked."

Smoke soon engulfed the entire car, "while the police officer and bystanders helplessly watched," the complaint added.

"After the Tesla hit the tree, he was alive. He had no internal injuries or broken bones," the complaint states. "He died from the smoke he inhaled as he sat locked inside the Tesla, despite that a police officer and others were there and ready to help, until flames forced them away."

A Tesla Model S sedan charges at a supercharging station in Silverthorne, Colo. on June 8, 2019.
David Zalubowski/AP, FILE

Attorney Stuart Grossman, who is representing Awan's widow and family in the lawsuit, described him and his wife as "intelligent, environmentally-conscious people who wanted to have a Tesla" until it ended in a "bizarre tragedy."

"It was just a horrible death," Grossman told ABC News. "He was burned beyond recognition."

Tesla did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment Thursday morning.

Shortly after the crash in February, the automaker released a statement to the Florida Sun-Sentinel saying they were cooperating with local authorities.

“We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy," the company told the local paper. “We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles.”

On their website, Tesla describes the Model S as "one of the safest cars on the road."

"Much of its safety is owed to the unique electric drivetrain that sits beneath the car," the company added, claiming it has set a record "of lowest likelihood of injury to occupants when tested in the United States."

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