I-TEAM EXCLUSIVE: Tesla blames 5-year-old after finger crushed by Model X 'ice breaker'

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Emergency crews struggled for two hours to free a little girl's finger from the door of a Tesla Model X. That incident is at the center of a lawsuit filed in San Jose Federal Court, but Tesla is trying to have the lawsuit dismissed and is blaming the 5-year-old and her parents.

The lawsuit claims the design of the front door on the Model X has a dangerous defect, but the company contends the SUV operated correctly in this case.

When Tesla Founder Elon Musk debuted the Model X four years ago, the power automatic doors drew cheers.

To this day, many Model X owners and even Tesla salespeople contacted by the I-Team don't know about one function -- it's not even in the owner's manual -- called the "ice breaker."

If the Model X senses the front door having difficulty opening, a black cube pops out to force the door open. It's supposed to retract in two to three seconds.

But the issue brought up in this lawsuit -- the ice breaker has "a hole in the middle large enough to fit a human finger."

That's what happened to Milana Izzetov. The 5-year-old got her finger stuck in her father's Model X ice breaker. It took emergency crews two hours to free her -- her finger tip, broken and cut.

She tells us by Skype from Ukraine she's afraid to enter any car now, but especially her dad's Model X: "I'm afraid to get inside the car now, and I think that nobody would be able to get inside it after such an accident."

Marlen Izzetov is a serious Tesla fan. There are no Tesla dealers in Ukraine where they live, so he bought a Model X through a reseller 1,200 miles away in the Czech Republic. Now, he says the company should warn Model X owners worldwide: "Tesla should inform other people about this situation, about this threat and to put some warning signs on it or to improve the mechanism, to make it more safe."

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Tesla is trying to dismiss a lawsuit after emergency crews struggled for two hours to free a little girl's finger from the door of a Model X.

Izzetov hired attorney Dan Tan to file this lawsuit in San Jose Federal Court, claiming "the Tesla Model X is and was defective, unreasonably dangerous, and unsafe."

"It's a defect of some sort, obviously, you know," Tan told I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes. "We're still waiting for Tesla to tell us what it is. Is it a design defect that's present on all cars or is this some sort of malfunctioning component on this single car?"

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Tesla filed this motion last week to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing in part that "plaintiffs' cause of action for product liability is ambiguous," and because Izzetov bought the Model X through a reseller and not directly from the company, "plaintiffs do not allege any direct contractual relationship or event with Tesla at any time."

"I think any responsible car manufacturer that takes safety seriously, they would have said, you know, look this is unacceptable, we want to find out what happened," said Tan. "None of that was done."

In one email to the attorney, Tesla's Managing Counsel Ryan McCarthy seems to blame the victim, the little girl: "That your client stuck her finger in the latch mechanism doesn't reveal a defect in the latch but rather an unfortunate and regrettable decision on her part and/or failure of oversight on the part of the adults in the area."

Tan responded, "I just don't think statements like this are constructive or have any place in the company that values and has a culture of safety."

We wanted to talk about these issues with the company, but Tesla spokesperson Danielle Meister refused an on-camera interview, refused to provide a written statement, and refused to allow me to record our phone conversations. She does want us to tell you the Model X received a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Despite concerns about the ice breaker and what happened to his daughter, Marlen Izzetov is still a Tesla fan.

"I'm keeping this vehicle because I really like it," said Izzetov. "I really, really like it, and tomorrow I go to Dusseldorf to buy another Tesla X for my wife."

The Model X can run up to $138,000. Marlen Izzetov owns a construction business and tells the I-Team the Model X costs even more in Ukraine because of the customs fees.

One final note: Tesla also says the girl's finger would have been freed if they had pressed the door handle a second time.

For a look at more stories and videos by the ABC7 News I-Team go here.
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