$13M Settlement Reached After Worker Is Injured At A Tesla Factory

Tesla Model S cars on the floor of the auto maker's Fremont factory in May 2015. The previous year a woman working as a janitor at the plant suffered injuries when she was pinned between two cars. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

A woman who claimed she suffered debilitating injuries while working as a janitor at Tesla's Fremont plant will get $13 million in a settlement reached late last week.

The case had been set for trial in an Alameda County where the factory is located. The agreement was reached Friday after a jury was selected but before opening statements began, according to Khail Parris, the attorney for the plaintiff.

At the time of the 2014 incident, his client, Teodora Tapia was employed by Flagship Facility as a janitor at the plant.

According to Tapia's complaint, on the night of August 12, 2014, she was doing janitorial services when the driver of a car pinned her between his vehicle and another and then struck her a second time. That driver was contracted by another staffing company, West Valley Staffing Group.

"As a result of the Defendant's actions," the claim said, "Plaintiff suffered serious and permanent injuries to her lower extremities and body."

Parris said Tapia is now permanently disabled as a result of her injuries.

"Everyone agreed she would never be able to work again, in any capacity, in any kind of job because of how severe her injury was," Parris added.

TESLA CONFIRMS SETTLEMENT

A spokesperson for Tesla confirmed to KPCC that company reached a settlement agreement, but said much of the financial burden will fall on West Valley Staffing Group, the company that employed the driver of the car.

"Given that it involved two contractors on Tesla's property, the contractor's employer, West Valley, will pay the bulk of the settlement," Tesla said.

West Valley did not return a request for comment from LAist.

Parris said that under the terms of the settlement agreement, it is not yet clear how much each party will pay.

This is not the first time West Valley and Tesla have been named together in a civil lawsuit. In 2017, three Tesla contract workers, who are black, sued Tesla and West Valley, along with other staffing agencies for racial harassment. Tesla denied the allegations at the time.

SAFETY ISSUES

Shortly after Tapia was injured, Cal/OSHA, the state's workplace safety agency, opened an investigation into the incident. Six months later the agency cited the automaker for lack of safety training.

In its statement, Tesla said last week's $13 million settlement was not tied to any safety issues.

"We care deeply about the safety and well-being of everyone who works at Tesla's facilities, whether they are a contractor or Tesla employee," the statement said. "However, this trial was focused solely on the amount of damages due, and was not related to Tesla's safety practices."

Parris said his client hopes the payout will spark change.

"What we're hoping this means is that companies take a deeper look into their business practices and their safety practices in general," he said.

The Fremont factory has been at the center of a range of issues regarding its working conditions over the past few years. The Guardian reported in 2017 that Fremont factory workers had been injured while working long hours to meet production goals.

Last year, Reveal with the Center for Investigative Reporting found that the company's Fremont plant had a higher injury rate among factory workers than it originally reported to the state agency Cal/OSHA.

And this April, Forbes reported that since 2014, the car company had 54 safety violations from Cal/OSHA. That's more than any other major auto plant in the U.S.