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Defective Auto Product: 1986 Plymouth Voyager Brake Design Defect

Most auto product liability lawyers will admit that a defective auto product is a danger to the vehicle occupants and other drivers on the road. In 1990, Paul Santos was driving his 1986 Plymouth Voyager minivan in New Hampshire. Santos, his wife, and their three children were returning to Belmont from a ski trip in Canada. When Santos applied the brakes after approaching slowed traffic, the rear of the minivan slid to the right, swerved into an oncoming lane and was broadsided by a Ford Bronco. Santos was injured, but sadly, his wife and three children died as a result of the car accident.

Santos subsequently filed a lawsuit against Chrysler. His defective product attorney produced expert testimony that the car accident was caused by premature and unanticipated rear-wheel lockup. They alleged that premature rear-wheel lockup was a design defect caused by one or more design defects that existed or could have occurred in the minivan's brake system. Chrysler contended that the car crash was caused by driver error in hazardous winter weather.

Plaintiffs produced several other witnesses who described the rear ends of their minivans skidding or swerving following hard application of the brakes. Although not all the witnesses specifically stated that their wheels "locked up," the jury could infer that the braking system was essentially the same in all the minivans. All the witnesses testified to incidents on wet roads. Although Santos' car accident occurred in snowy conditions, most of the snow had been cleared and the road was only wet.

In Chrysler's view, because the witnesses were ordinary drivers, they were incapable of identifying premature wheel-rear lockup. Over Chrysler's objection, the judge admitted evidence of recalls of minivans from the 1984 and 1985 model years.

"These recalls called for the installation of a shield over the height sensing proportioning valve (HSPV)," noted nationally recognized auto defects attorney, John Bisnar. "The recall letter stated that the shield was necessary to keep small stone's from becoming entrapped in the HSPV, and that an HSPV so contaminated could increase stopping distances during hard braking when the minivan was lightly loaded."

Santos' attorneys introduced the recalls to show that Chrysler was on notice that the HSPV could not be relied on to prevent premature rear-wheel lockup. Further evidence suggested that Chrysler was also concerned about snow contamination and rear-wheel skid.

A memo from a Chrysler braking engineer written shortly before he retired reported rear-brake "burn up" and rear-wheel skid from leased vehicles, endurance vehicles, taxicabs, passenger vehicles, and station wagons -- but not minivans, which had not yet been developed. He concluded that these Chrysler vehicles suffered from premature rear-wheel skid after a short period of use. This tendency was accompanied by increased efficiency and rapid wear of the vehicles' rear brake linings. This widespread tendency to experience rear-wheel skid because of over-efficient rear brake linings, combined with the fact that the brake linings in Santos minivan were excessively worn, convinced the jury that Chrysler was aware of the tendency of the rear wheels of its vehicles to lockup prematurely due to over-efficient rear brake linings.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court therefore upheld a lower court finding and ordered DaimlerChrysler to pay $19.2 million in damages to Paul Santos.

"Under unimaginable emotional pain, Mr. Santos chose to confront a giant car maker in court," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys product liability law firm. "Holding Chrysler accountable for a preventable tragedy is an act of courage and should be commended. Our hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Chrysler and other car makers will convince them to design safer braking systems and prevent others from being seriously injured or killed."

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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