Media outlets in Louisiana and around the country ran stories in 2018 about a series of rooftop fires at Walmart stores. The fires have been blamed on faulty solar panels supplied and installed by Tesla, and Walmart has responded by filing a breach of contract lawsuit against the Palo Alto-based electric car manufacturer. The lawsuit accuses Tesla of systemic negligence and failing to adhere to generally accepted industry safety standards.
Walmart says that the faulty solar panels caused fires at seven of its stores, and the Arkansas-based retailer has asked Tesla to remove equipment at 240 of its other locations. Several of the fires were quite serious and caused millions of dollars of damage to real estate and merchandise. A fire at a California Walmart injured two firefighters and an employee. The fires prompted inspections at Walmart stores that allegedly revealed hazardous conditions including ungrounded electrical connections and dangerous wiring. Problems at 48 Walmart locations were considered so severe that they endangered shoppers according to court documents.
The breach of contract lawsuit accuses Tesla of sending unqualified and untrained personnel to inspect its solar panels. The company also alleges that the panels were installed improperly. Court papers reveal that one Tesla inspector allegedly left an electrical box cover open and exposed high-voltage wiring to the elements. Walmart is seeking compensation to cover store repairs and lost merchandise.
Cases such as this one can be extremely expensive to litigate and are often settled at the negotiating table. Attorneys with experience in contract disputes could seek to avoid costly legal battles by ensuring that all parties understand their responsibilities before documents are signed. Attorneys could also suggest that these matters are handled discretely as widespread media coverage may make a negotiated settlement more difficult to reach.
Source: WIVB, “Walmart sues Tesla over roof solar panel fires”, Daniel Telvock, Aug. 26, 2019