Verdict in Tesla Case Shows How Comparative Fault Works in Florida

Though the electric vehicle automaker will still have to pay compensation to the plaintiffs, Tesla recently gained a victory of sorts after a jury’s verdict in a Florida auto defects case. According to NBC Miami News Channel 6, jurors initially awarded $10.5 million to the family of a teen victim who was killed in a fiery, single-car collision in 2018. Then, after rendering a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the amount was then reduced to $105,000 through application of the state law on contributory negligence. The plaintiff had claimed that the lithium ion batteries in the Tesla Model S were defective, leading them to burst to flames upon impact. However, the jury found that the deceased victim was partly to blame for speeding. 

The victim’s family may be disappointed with the outcome, while Tesla breathes a sigh of relief for not having to pay the full $10.5 million in damages. Still, the case is useful for showing how Florida’s statute on comparative fault in product liability matters. A Miami auto defects attorney can explain how the law may impact your rights, though a legal summary is useful.

Pure Comparative Fault Reduces Compensation

Florida has enacted a version of contributory negligence called “pure” comparative fault, which focuses on how blame is apportioned between the victim and defendant. The statute allows a plaintiff to recover damages even when he or she is up to 99% responsible for causing the accident.

The outcome in the recent Tesla case illustrates how pure comparative fault works. Jurors determined that the teen victim was 99% for causing the crash that led to his death for two reasons:

  • He removed a speed limiter on the Tesla Model S, which his father had installed because of the teen’s past history of speeding and reckless driving. Doing so enabled him to travel at speeds in excess of 85 mph, where the father has set the limit.
  •  A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) probe found that the teen was driving at 116 mph before slamming into a concrete wall.

On the flip side, the jury found that Tesla was just 1% liable for the alleged defective lithium ion batteries. The verdict for $10.5 million was therefore reduced to $105,000.

Other Forms of Contributory Negligence

For comparison purposes, it may be helpful to review the contributory fault laws in other states, as they can be quite harsh compared to Florida’s rule. Some jurisdictions apply a “modified” comparative negligence, in which a plaintiff can only obtain damages when less than 50% at fault. In a few states, contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovering compensation.

Speak to a Miami Auto Defects Lawyer About Legal Remedies

Florida’s comparative negligence law can lead to harsh consequences in a product liability case, but our team at Gerson & Schwartz, PA is prepared for challenges. To set up a no-cost consultation at our offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, FL, please call (305) 371-6000 or visit us online.

Florida Justice Association
The National Center for Victims of Crime
outh Florida Legal Guide
Contact Information