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Tesla faces lawsuit over new-car smell in fatal cyclist crash

by Justin King

Tesla faces a lawsuit over the death of a cyclist hit by a Model S driver who claims to have fallen asleep due to the new-car smell.

Tesla Motors has reportedly been named in a lawsuit against a Model S driver who killed cyclist Joshua Alper in an accident near Santa Cruz, California. Attorneys representing Alper's family argue that driver Navindra Kumar Jain and the "defective ... dangerous" car are both responsible for the death.

Jain fell asleep behind the wheel at approximately 11:15 a.m. on Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz, leaving the car to drift across the double yellow and strike Alper on the shoulder of the opposite lane, according to a California Highway Patrol report cited by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Prosecutors have accused Jain, a retired technology executive, of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The investigation considered additional information such as toxicology reports and cellphone data, determining that escalation to a felony was not appropriate.

The lawsuit accuses the driver of carelessly and negligently causing the death. Jain argues that his Model S, purchased less than two weeks prior to the accident, had a strong new-car smell that caused him to fall asleep.

The lawsuit places partial blame on the car itself, claiming that Jain's particular Model S was "defective and unreasonably dangerous when used in a normal, intended and foreseeable manner."

Tesla has faced safety concerns related to several Model S fires, though accusations of wrongful-death negligence due to new-car smell appears to be a first for the company.

Interestingly, Jain isn't the first driver to blame new-car smell for loss of consciousness. A Colorado driver in 2010 used the same argument to defend himself against hit-and-run charges after rear-ending a cyclist with his new Mercedes sedan, according to the Denver Post. Tellingly, he later accepted a plea deal for a 90-day jail sentence and several misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Several studies have investigated the potential health effects from vapors inside new cars. Results have been contradictory, though several reports do point to dizziness and fatigue as exposure symptoms for some drivers.

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