Fiery Tesla Crash Claims Life of Two Teenagers

The Beach Boys back in 1964 provided a cautionary tale for kids who drive too fast in their parent’s car: They get it taken away. That’s what happened with that particular T-bird in the song, but it wasn’t what happened recently in Florida with a Tesla.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, back in March of 2018, 18 year-old Barrett Riley was cited for driving 112 in a 50 in his father’s 2014 Tesla Model S. Three other young adults were in the car at the time. Young Riley was cited for Unlawful Speed and was fined $590 and ordered to attend aggressive driving classes for 8 hours. Meanwhile, his father continued to allow him to drive the Tesla. His father also would have had access to a phone app that would allow him to track the vehicle’s whereabouts and see its speed in real time.

Flash forward to May of 2018 and Riley is behind the wheel again, this time with two passengers. He is driving in a 30 mph residential zone, but is going 116 mph. According to reports, he lost control of the vehicle and struck a concrete wall, causing it to burst into flames. Both Riley and his front seat passenger perished in the crash, with another friend in the back seat miraculously surviving after being ejected from the car.

So who is the blame for this crash happening? Should 100% of the blame be put on the 18 year-old? Is this Tesla’s fault? And does the father bear any blame?

It’s a given that the 18 year-old’s decision to accelerate in this rocket ship of a car was his decision, for which there were fatal consequences. But you can’t ignore the fact that he probably should not have been driving a car like this. While Tesla’s have a reputation for being safe cars, they also have a reputation for blistering acceleration and a high top-end speed. In my opinion, it is questionable for a parent to let an inexperienced high schooler drive one in the first place. But, when you look at the lad’s earlier offense of driving 112 in a 50, it is inexcusable to have continued to let him drive this car. Daddy should’ve taken this Tesla away!

Legally speaking, the father’s actions arose to what I would consider to be “negligent entrustment.” The Utah jury instruction, CV631: Negligent Entrustment, reads:

Plaintiff claims that the vehicle owner was negligent in allowing the young driver to drive the vehicle. The vehicle owner is responsible for the harm to plaintiff if all of the following are true:

(1) The vehicle owner owns the vehicle.

(2) The vehicle owner permitted the young driver to drive the vehicle.

(3) At the time the vehicle owner gave permission to drive, he/she knew that the young driver was a [pick one or more]: careless, reckless, incompetent, inexperienced, or intoxicated driver.

(4) The young driver was negligent in driving the vehicle.

(5) The young driver’s negligence caused the accident.

Certainly no parent wants to lose a child. Yet allowing a child to continue drive a super-car after he demonstrated that he cannot safely do so is bad parenting which exposed his son his son’s passengers to injury and death and exposed him to legal claims from the family of the deceased and the injured passenger. Actions have consequences and it would have been in the child’s best interest (as well as his passengers) not to have provided him with a car like this. Parents need to provide for their children and they also need to do what they can to protect their children from bad decisions. In my opinion, this crash would have been avoided if this father dad did what the dad in the Beach Boys song did: took the car keys away.

Ron Kramer is a Utah personal injury attorney practicing in West Jordan and throughout Utah.