A series of rooftop blazes at Walmart stores in recent years left the retail giant with a pressing question: What was causing all the fires?
In a lawsuit filed in New York state Supreme Court on Tuesday, Walmart proposed an explanation. “The answer was obvious and startling,” the complaint said. “The stores all had Tesla solar panels installed by Tesla on their roofs.”
Walmart is suing Tesla for breach of contract, contending that at least seven rooftop fires at the retailer’s stores between 2012 and 2018 were a result of problems with solar panels installed by the company.
The complaint asserted that Tesla engaged in “widespread, systemic negligence” and “failed to abide by prudent industry practices in installing, operating and maintaining its solar systems.” It said the panels were installed on the roofs of hundreds of Walmarts.
Tesla representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The panels were installed by Tesla’s solar business, which was absorbed when the electric-car maker acquired SolarCity in 2016.
“Tesla designed these systems and represented them as safe, reliable and an environmentally conscious way for Walmart to reduce its energy costs,” the company’s complaint said.
A fire in March 2018 at a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio, released “a tremendous plume of black smoke” as firefighters arrived and customers evacuated, the complaint said, and the store was closed for eight days.
“Ominously, the fire had occurred near gas lines on the store’s roof,” the lawsuit said. “By stroke of luck, the gas lines remained intact, and catastrophic injuries and damages were averted.”
Since Tesla acquired SolarCity, it has aimed to offer one-stop shopping for solar technology, batteries and electric cars. Tesla ended its relationship with Home Depot, where sales teams offered solar panels to residential customers, and began offering all its products at its own retail stores or online.
Last year, Tesla lost its status as the leading residential solar company to Sunrun, a rival based in San Francisco.