Tesla CEO Elon Musk told the father of a teenager who died in a Model S crash that the company mistakenly removed the speed limit without the father’s permission, lawyers say. The family’s attorney, Kurtis Miner, told the jury on Thursday local time that the dead teenager’s father, James Riley, asked Musk during a 2018 phone exchange what happened to the accident.
The Model S was supposed to limit the speed to 85 mph (137 km/h) via a device, but why was the speed limit removed, causing 18-year-old Barrett Riley to hit 116 mph Speeding off the road in Florida, he crashed into a wall and died.
After confirming through Tesla that James Riley was the registered owner, Musk said Tesla’s technicians should not have removed the speed limit without his authorization, according to the lawyer’s description of the call. When Riley appeared in court against Tesla, Musk said: “I guess we shouldn’t lift the speed limit.” Riley said Musk told him Tesla would review its policy.
The case, which is heard in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will continue through next week. Miner said in his opening statement that Tesla’s failure to communicate effectively with Bartlett’s parents was an important factor in the case.
He said the accident would not have happened “if Tesla had taken the easiest step and told Jim and Jenny Riley [the parents of the deceased] what they had done.”
The negligence case is the first time the world’s most valuable car company has been sued for a fatal accident involving its vehicles. The company is facing multiple lawsuits over accidents that may have been caused by Autopilot’s assisted driving feature. Safety regulators are also increasing their scrutiny of Tesla.
“A speed limiter is not a safety device,” said Vince Galvin, an attorney representing the company. “If the collision speed went from 116 mph to 85 mph, would it be okay?”
Tesla has said that Barrett Riley personally went to Tesla’s Model S service station and “tricked” employees into lifting the speed limit for him.
“Tesla has no right to supervise the Rileys’ children,” Calvin said.
Calvin also disputed the content of Musk’s call with Riley. Musk was not a witness in the case.
“If Musk told him there was something wrong,” Riley would certainly have informed the National Transportation Safety Board as it investigated the accident, the lawyer said, but he “didn’t say a word.”
Calvin said Barlett’s friends and family knew his driving was “reckless” and “dangerous”. His mother also urged friends to stop him from speeding and expressed concern for their safety.
“The Rileys were negligent in entrusting the car to Bartlett because they knew and should have known he had driving problems,” Calvin said.