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Product Liability: 1985 Dodge Caravan Faulty Liftgate

It is no secrete to most product liability attorneys that defective auto products can have dangerous consequences. In 1994, 6-year-old Sergio Jimenez II was riding in the back seat of his family's 1985 Dodge Caravan. As the Caravan exited a shopping center parking lot, the driver, Jimenez's wife drove through a red light. The van was struck in the left rear by an oncoming car traveling at 30 m.p.h. The impact caused the van to spin, roll over and land on its wheels. Sergio, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was thrown out of the van when the latch on the rear liftgate failed. The boy later died of his injuries.

A mason with three other children, Jimenez filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Chrysler, claiming the car maker was negligent in the design and testing of the minivan, and that negligence led to the boy's death. Specifically, Jimenez contended that 1985 Dodge Caravan included a defectively designed rear liftgate latch, which caused the liftgate to open during the car accident. Jimenez further asserted that his son would not have been seriously injured had he not been ejected from the vehicle, and he would not have been ejected, regardless of seatbelt use, if the rear door latch had not been defective. Finally, Jimenez alleged that Chrysler knew about the defect and covered it up while at the same time advertising its minivans to American families as safe.

"Chrysler acknowledged that it performed no crash tests to determine how their minivan latch would perform ina car collision," noted nationally recognized product liability lawyer John Bisnar. "It further acknowledged that their latch was "noticeably flimsy" when compared to the latches of competing minivans that came on the market soon thereafter."

Chrysler agreed that if it had included a headed striker post in its liftgate latch, the liftgate would not have opened and Sergio would not have been thrown from the vehicle. But the car maker also said that the driver of the Caravan ran a red light, and that the force of the car collision threw the boy, who was not wearing a seat belt, out of the side window, not through the lift gate opening. The family denied that the van ran a red light, and the trial judge refused to allow evidence about the traffic signal.

"Dozens of passengers were killed when they were ejected in car accidents that caused the rear liftgates to open on Chrysler vans," observed John Bisnar. "Regrettably, Chrysler had known that their latch design was defective for more than ten years, and it was used in 1.6 million minivans. With their guilty knowledge, they not only failed to tell the public about it, they failed to fix the problem in a responsible, expedient manner. They even destroyed documents that reflected their guilt and continued to cover it up."

The jury in U.S. District Court said Chrysler was at fault and ordered the car maker to pay $262.5 million to the parents of Sergio Jimenez--$12.5 million in actual damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Chrysler said the company would appeal, asserting that the outrageously large punitive damage award shows that the jury was unduly influenced by the highly emotional nature of the circumstances of the car collision.

"Amidst his grief in losing his son, Mr. Jimenez demonstrated tremendous courage in confronting a major car maker like Chrysler," said Brian Chase nationally recognized defective product attorney. "He did the right thing holding Chrysler accountable for designing an unsafe vehicle used by millions of families. Our hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Chrysler and other car makers will convince them to improve their door latch and liftgate systems."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.

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